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1



History and Fundamentals

MOD ERN IST
CUIS INE
The Art and Science of Cooking

Nathan Myhrvo ld
with Chris Young
and Maxime Bilet

Photograp hy by

Ryan Matthevv Smith
and Nathan Myhrvold

Copyright© 2011 by The Cooking Lab, LLC
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of
this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any
means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission
of the publisher. All trademarks used are property of their respective owners.

The Cooking Lab
3150 !39th Ave SE
Bellevue, WA 98005
www.modernistcuisine.com

ISBN: 978-0-9827610-0-7
First edition, 2011

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available upon request
Printed in China

Moder nist Cuisine
The Art and Science of Cooking

Volume 1

Hist ory and
Fund ar r 1ent als

The Cooking Lab

FOREWORD BY FERRAN ADRIA
FOREWORD BY HESTON BLUMENTHAL
OUR CULINARY JOURNEYS

viii
ix

VOLUME I:
HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTALS
2

CHAPTER 1: HISTORY
Origins of Cooking ........ .............................................. 6
Evolution and Revolution ........................ .......... ....... 14
The Seeds of Modernism .. ...... .... ..... .............. ........... 33
The Modernist Revolution ......... ........ .......... ..... ... .... 52
The Story of this Book .. .......................... .................. 83
About the Recipes ......... .................. ................•......... 93

102

CHAPTER 2: MICROBIOLOGY FOR COOKS
Microbes as Germs .................................................. 106
Foodborne Illness .................................. .... .. .... ........ 110
Parasitic Worms ....................... ................................ 120
Protists ..................................................................... 126
Bacteria ......................................... ........................... 130
Bacterial Growth ............................................. .... .... 142
Bacterial Death .......... ...................................... .... .... 148
Viruses ................................................................. ..... 152
Prions ....................................................................... 156

162

CHAPTER 3: FOOD SAFETY
The Complex Origins of Food Safety Rules ...... .. ..
Common Misconceptions ........................ .. ............
Understanding the FDA Rule Book .......................
Simplifying Food Safety with Science ...................
Hygiene ............................................... .....................

166
174
182
190
196

CHAPTER 4: FOOD AND HEALTH

208

Dietary Systems ....................................................... 214
Medical Dietary Systems ................................ .... .... 222
Nonmedical Dietary Systems ................................. 240
Modernist Ingredients ............................................ 250

CHAPTER 5: HEAT AND ENERGY

260

The Nature of Heat and Temperature .................... 264
Energy, Power, and Efficiency ................................ 272
Heat in Motion ........................................................ 2 77

CHAPTER 6: THE PHYSICS OF FOOD AND WATER
Water is Strange Stuff.. ........ .................................... 296
The Energy of Changing States ...................... ........ 300
Freezing and Melt ing ...... ........................................ 304
Vaporization and Condensation ............................. 314
Sublimation and Deposition ................................... 326
Water as a Solvent .................................................... 330
Water Quality and Purity ........................................ 335

Page references of the form 4-381 refer to volume 4, page 381

292

VOLUME2:
TECHNIQUES AND EQUIPMENT
CHAPTER 7: TRADITIONAL COOKING

2

Grilling ......................................................................... 7
Broiling .................. ....... .................... .... ... ................ .. 18
Roasting ..................................................................... 28
Panfrying a Ia Plancha .. ....... ................. ..................... 3 7
Sauteing ... .. ............................................................ ..... 44
Stir-Frying .......... ........ ... ............................. ................ 48
Covered Sauteing ................................... ........ ........ .... 58
Boiling ..................... ................... ..... ... ... ..... ........ ... .... . 63
Steaming ......................................... ................ ............ 70
Canning ................... ... ... .... ................. ... ..... ..... ... ....... . 75
Pot-Roasting and Stewing ......................................... 93
Baking ......... ....................... ....................................... 101
Cooking in Oil ......................................................... 11S
Smoking .............. .... ... .... ...... .............. ... .. .... ........... .. 132

CHAPTER 8: COOKING IN MODERN OVENS

150

Cooking with Moist Air .................. ........................ 154
Cooking with Microwaves .............. ........................ 182

CHAPTER 9: COOKING SOUS VIDE

192

Why So us Vide? .... ................................................... 198
Packaging Food for Sous Vide ................ ........ ........ 208
Sous Vide Equipment .............................................. 228
Strategies for Cooking So us Vide ...... ..................... 242
Strategies for Chilling and Reheating .......... :......... 252
Blanching and Searing for So us Vide .. ................... 267

CHAPTER 10: THE MODERNIST KITCHEN

280

Extracting Flavors ................................... .. .............. 288
Infusing Essences .. .......... ........................................ 318
Juicing .... ... .. ... ........ .... ... ......... .... ... ..... ...................... 332
Fi ltering .. .... ............................ .................................. 351
Concentrate! ... .... ... ..... .. ...... ... ............... ..... .............. 3 79
Cutting 'Em Down to Size ................ ............. ......... 398
Drying ......... .. ....................... .................................... 428
Cryogenic Freezing and Carbonating .................... 456

VOLUME3:
ANIMALS AND PLANTS
CHAPTER 11: MEAT AND SEAFOOD
How Muscle Works ................................. .................... 6
Converting Muscle into Meat.. ................................. 32
Cutting ...................... ............................ ... ... ............. .. 44
Cooking Meat and Seafood ............................... .... .. .. 70
Cooking Skin and Innards .. ...................... .... ....... ... 116
Salting and Drying .... .......... .............. .... ................ .. 152
Marinating ............. .... ........ .... ................ .... .... .......... 190
Smoking ..... ..... .. .. ..... ... ... ... ... .. .. ...... ... ..... ........ .......... 208
Restructuring ... ....... ................................................. 220

2

CHAPTER 12: PLANT FOODS

258

Plants as Food ............. ................ ............................. 262
Cooking So us Vide ................................. ............. .... 286
Pressure-Cooking .................................................... 298
Microwaving ............... ..................... ........................ 310
Frying .. .... .... ........ .... ......... ................ .... .............. ...... 314
Preserving ... ............................ ................................. 344
Modifying Textures .... ..................... ................... .. ... 374

VOLUME4:
INGREDIENTS AND PREPARATIONS
CHAPTER13:THICKENERS

2

How Thickening Works ............................................ 12
Strategies for Thickening .... ........................... ........... 14
Starches ....................................................... ............... 20
Hydrocolloids .................. .......................................... 38

CHAPTER 14: GELS

64

How Gelling Works ........ ........................ ......... .. ... .... . 70
Egg Gels ..................................................................... 74
Dairy and Tofu Gels ................................................ 102
Gelling with Hydrocolloids .................................... 124
Fluid Gels ........................ ......................................... 176
Spherificat ion .... .... .. ... ... .................. ............... ........ . 184

CHAPTER 15: EMULSIONS

196

How Emulsification Works .................................. ... 200
Methods of Emulsifying ......................................... 206
Modernist Emulsio ns ...................... ........ ............... . 214

CHAPTER 16: FOAMS

240

How Foams Work .. .. ................................................ 244
Forming Foams ...................... .... ............. ................. 252

CHAPTER 17: WINE

316

What Makes a Great Wi ne .............. ....................... . 322
Tasting Wine .................................................. .......... 334

CHAPTER18:COFFEE

354

From Cherry to Bean .............................................. 358
Brewing ................... ... .... .... ............................ ...... ... . 364
Espresso ... .. .................... ............................ .............. 3 72
T he Art of Milk and Coffee .................................... 391
Achieving Consistency .. .... ...................................... 396

VOLUME 5: PLATED-DISH RECIPES
ABOUT THE RECIPES

CHAPTER 19: TENDER CUTS
Beef Rib Steak

Mushroom Swiss Burger
Autumn Harvest Pork Roast

Rack of Lamb with Garlic
Blanquette de Veau
Choucroute Royale

viii

2

CHAPTER 20: TOUGH CUTS

40

Braised Short Ribs

Pot·au-Feu
Hungarian Beef Goulash

Ossa Buco Milanese
American BBQ
Cassoulet Toulousain (Autumn and Spring)

Historic Lamb Curries
Sunday Pork Belly

CHAPTER 21: POULTRY

106

F01e Gras a Ia \'apeur
Cnspy Hay-Smoked Chicken
Duck Apicius
Pigeon en Salmis
Guinea Hen Tajme

CHAPTER 22: FISH

140

Fish and Chips
Hamachi !v1altaise
Monkfish with Mediterranean Flavors
Skate in Black Butter
Salmon Rus
Malays~an

Steamed Snapper

Black Cod "Fredy Girardet"

Hawaiian Poke

CHAPTER 23: SHELLFISH

178

Shrimp Cocktail
Lobster Amfricaine
Tha i Crab Miang
Pulpo a Ia Gallega
Shellfish Omakase
Oyster Stew

CHAPTER 24: EGGS

208

The Breakfast Egg
lvtushroom Omelet

Oeufs en Meurette

CHAPTER 25: STARCHES

222

Cocoa Tajarin
Spaghetti aile Vongole
Russian Pelmeni
Paella Valenciana

Astronaut Ramen
Shanghai Soup Dumplings

CHAPTER 26: FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

258

Onion Tart
Lentil Salad
Sweet Pea Fricassee
Strawberry Gazpacho
Crispy Cau liflower
Watermelon Bulgogi

PHOTOGRAPHS AND ILLUSTRATIONS
GLOSSARIES OF CULINARY AND TECHNICAL TERMS
SOURCES OF EQUIPMENT AND INGREDIENTS. REFERENCE TABLES
THE MODERNIST CUISINE TEAM, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, INDEX

IV

v
XXX
XLVI

Foreword
When I saw the first sections of this book as it was

easy, yet clear. I can think of few other works that

taking shape, I knew I was facing an exceptional

pair cooking techniques with such analytical

work of uncommon rigor and extraordinary

rigor.
As I read the book, two thoughts spring to

breadth. It is no exaggeration to call this a work of
brilliance. There has been nothing like it in the

mind. The first is that now is a good time to

history of the kitchen. But that is no surprise,

rethink how we teach nutrition and cooking in

considering who created it.

schools. I have no doubt that this work will
strongly influence how these subjects are taught in

I met Nathan Myhrvold seven or eight years

the future.

ago, when he came to dinner at e!Bulli. Our first

I also think that there is no better example than

encounter was brief, yet I knew immediately that
before me was a man with a special gift, one of the

this book of the dialog that has emerged between

few people I know who has the ability to "read"

science and cooking. In fact, these pages arguably

dishes. Avant-garde chefs admire an openness to

represent the climax of that dialog. Modernist

the joy that comes from experiencing creative

Cuisine helps establish a new language by which

emotions fully, and we hope to find it in those we

chefs can communicate the complexities of their

cook for. Like other connoisseurs, Nathan was

intellectual work. At the same time, this is a living

able to enjoy our culinary proposals on the

work because it clearly lays a new stepping stone to

physical and sensory levels; but he also under-

the future of cooking. It raises our expectations of

stood and felt the creativity of the ideas on display

what a cookbook can be.

in each plate. We chefs work for all who enjoy our

So turn the page and let yourself be seduced by

food, but there are times where, in the back of my

what follows, by this extraordinary compendium

mind, I think we are most motivated by those

of insight into the products, the techniques, the

uncommon guests such as these.

recipes, the technology, the inspiration ... all that,

Nathan and his team have done an extraordi-

and more, presented in an intelligent and heartfelt
tribute to gastronomy.

nary job in producing this book, which reflects the
huge effort that went into it. The result is a true
work of art-not strictly a cookbook, but some-

Ferran Adria

thing more: a work that will change the way we

Roses, Spain

understand the modern kitchen and gastronomy.

July2010

This is a book that is not complex, yet rich; not

viii

VOLUME 1 · HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

Foreword
Over the road from my restaurant, the Fat Duck,

secure funding and ensure the conference was

there is an annex housing a development kitchen

taken seriously. Fortunately, since then the role of

(or lab, as it's often called) complete with sous-

science in the kitchen has come increasingly to be

vide machines and water baths and rotary evapo-

accepted.

rators and vacuum centrifuges and all sorts of
other cutting-edge equipment.
This wasn't always the case. A decade or so ago,

However, it's often still misunderstood. There
are people who determinedly resist the use in the
kitchen of things like liquid nitrogen and evapora-

when Chris Young came to work at the Fat Duck,

tors, seeing them as somehow inappropriate and

space was at a premium, so my "lab" consisted of

"not cooking." Yet many of the technologies and

six small slatted wooden garden sheds that had

tools we rely on every day in the kitchen-our

been built in the courtyard at the back of the

fridges, freezers, and food processors, and even

restaurant. It wasn't glamorous, and it definitely

our non-stick pans and super-sharp carbon steel

didn't look very hi-tech. But good scientists, like

knives-are products of equally complex science.

good chefs, are people who ask questions, who

Where do you draw the line? The logical end result

experiment, who like to try new things. Chris

of this kind of purist thinking would have us all

simply rolled up his sleeves and got on with it,

cooking with sharpened sticks over an open fire!

throwing himself into my projects with enthusiasm, determination, and curiosity.
He's brought the same qualities to this book.

There are other people who see science and
technology as somehow taking the passion and
emotion out of cooking, when in fact they're just

Together, he and Nathan have assembled a highly

more tools for the creative chef to work with-

talented team of chefs, designers, editors, and a

part of the batterie de cuisine alongside knives and

photographer, and between them they have

non-stick pans and freezers and food mixers.

produced a wonderful book. The photos are

And there are young chefs who see science and

spectacular. The recipes and techniques are both

technology as the end rather than the means-a

practical and comprehensive, drawing on the

way of producing a culinary spectacle. I've been to

classical repertoire and on the ideas of many of the

demos where the techniques used to create a new

great modern chefs, as well as presenting lots of

dish are extremely impressive, but the end result is

new material. Perhaps most important of all,

inedible. The excitement of discovering new

everything is presented in a clear, concise, and

concepts or technology mustn't blind us to the fact

accessible fashion.
I've long thought that the astonishingly rapid

that what we cook should, first and foremost, be
delicious. That's the bottom line.

and diverse evolution of modern cuisine in recent

Nathan, Chris, and Max have produced a

years requires a new kind of cookbook that draws

beautiful and fascinating book that explores the

on lots of formats, from lots of different disci-

possibilities of the latest scientific advances in

plines, in order to make its points. Using pantone

cuisine, and they manage to communicate their

charts, perhaps, to show the range of browns for

excitement on the page. But they don't neglect the

different caramels, or explaining certain culinary

importance of how cooking has evolved and how

techniques in a series of technical diagrams, as in

important it is to get a good grounding in the

an instruction manual. With its detailed charts

basics in order to really harness your creativity.

and tables, and its comparative and procedural

Modernist Cuisine will make you ask questions,
experiment, and try new things-and I find that
incredibly exciting.

photographs, this book is, it seems to me, a bold
and welcome step in this direction.
We need books that do all this. Twenty years
ago, one of the key influences on modern cooking,

Heston Blumenthal

the late, great physicist Nicholas Kurti, had to give

Bray, England

a culinary science symposium a fancy title involv-

July 2010

ing the words "molecular gastronomy" in order to

FOREWORDS

ix

Our Culinary Journeys
When I was nine years old, I announced to my
mother that I was going to cook Thanksgiving
dinner. During a trip to the library a week or so
earlier, I had become fascinated with a book called
The Pyromaniac's Cookbook, which was all about
items served flambe. Amazingly, she let me do the
cooking, including nearly setting the dining table
on fire. I soon learned the limitation of flaming
dishes-although they may look great, their taste
is another matter.
I got more books from the library and started to
learn about cooking. I soon discovered Escoffier's
Le Guide Culinaire and pored over it, along with
books by Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney,
and other authors of classic cookbooks about
French cuisine.
My interest in cooking was so strong that I
might have become a chef, had my interest in
other things-particularly math and science-not
intervened. I was very good at school and often
skipped grades, to the point that I started college
at 14. Every topic related to math and science
fascinated me, so by the time I was finished with

While working at Microsoft in the late 1980s, I
read about John Willingham and how he had won
the world championship of barbecue (actually
both of them; like many fields, barbecue has
competing organizations that each host a "world"
championship) by using an amazing barbecue
cooker of his own invention. I contacted him to
buy one, which took many months of delicate
negotiationsj}ohn won't sell his cooker to somebody he doesn't like-he won't even sell one to
most of his friends!
When the Willingham cooker arrived, I made
some great barbecue with it-but it wasn't as good
as the food samples that John had sent me. So I
told him I had to come to Memphis for a lesson.
He invited me to visit while "a little contest" (as he
put it) was going on there. The little contest turned
out to be one of those world championships.
I expected to just observe this master at work,
but to my great surprise, John put me on the team
of five people competing in the contest. "Son," he
said in his distinctive Tennessee drawl, "it's the

school, I had a quite a collection of degrees: a
Ph.D. in mathematical physics, a master's degree

only way you're going to learn."
It was a baptism of fire ... and smoke, and meat.
For three days, I worked 16 hours a day trussing

in economics, another master's degree in geophysics and space physics, and a bachelor's degree in

whole hogs, trimming ribs, and stoking the fire.
Partway through the contest, he even put me in

mathematics. By that point I was 23 years old. My
next step was to become a postdoctoral fellow at
Cambridge University, where I worked with Dr.

ly, we took first place in both of my dishes and
came in third in the grand championship. It was

Stephen Hawking on the quantum theory of
gravitation. My career in science was off to a
roaring start.
Life takes many unexpected twists and turns,

charge of two of the dishes we entered. Fortunate-

quite an education in barbecue.
By the mid-1990s, I had decided that I needed
to make more time for cooking. Although I was
entirely self-taught up to that point, my barbecue

however. Partway through my fellowship with
Stephen, I decided to take a summer off to work on

experience suggested that I might do better with
some instruction. I negotiated a short leave of

a software project with some friends from graduate school. By the end of the summer, venture

absence with Bill and applied to chef school in

capitalists had expressed interest in our project, so
I extended my leave of absence. We incorporated

The admissions people at Ecole de Ia Varenne
were a bit mystified by my resume, which listed no
cooking experience; they politely suggested that I

the project as a startup company, and I became the
CEO.
Two years later, the startup was acquired by
another software company: Microsoft. Within a
couple years, I was working directly for Bill Gates,
and in time I became Microsoft's first chief
technology officer.

MODERNIST CUISINE

France.

take one of their amateur courses. I declined. The
advanced professional program with "Le Grand
Diplome" was what I wanted.
Unsure of what to do, they asked Cynthia
Nims, a La Varenne alumna living in Seattle, to
give me an exam over the phone to see whether

this could possibly make sense. I passed the exam,

to be the chief gastronomic officer of their compa-

so they asked that I work as a stagier at a restaurant

ny, Zagat Survey. I've eaten a lot of great food with

before they would accept me.

them over the years.

For nearly two years, I reported one day a week

My career at Microsoft kept getting in the way

to Rover's restaurant in Seattle, run by Chef

of my cooking, but when I retired from the

Thierry Rautureau. I arrived at noon to start on

company in 1999 to start a small company of my

prep and worked through dinner service.
I learned a lot from Thierry. At the school, one

own focused on invention, I found myself with a
bit more time to explore Modernist cooking

of the chefs assigned us to bone ducks. The chef

techniques. In 2004, I started a discussion on

watched me closely. When I was finished with the

eGullet, an online forum for chefs and cooking

first one, he came to me and said, "You! Where did

enthusiasts, to collect knowledge and observations

you learn this?" I thought he was mad, but before I

about cooking sous vide, a remarkable way to

could answer he smiled and added, "You know a

control the temperature at which food cooks with

duck like a Frenchman! " Thierry had taught me

a precision that other methods cannot match.

well.
Chef school was also quite an experience.

The writing I did for that eGullet thread ultimately led to this book. In another twist of fate,

Besides cooking, the students would go to great

Cynthia Nims, who vetted me for chef school, also

restaurants for dinner. That's how I first ate at the

was a contributor to this book (see The Modernist

Cote Saint Jacques and the restaurants of Marc

Cuisine Team, page 5·XLVI) some 15 years after

Meneau and Marc Veyrat. I was told of a chef

letting me into La Varenne.

working in Spain near the border with France in a

If my history and circumstances had been

restaurant called e!Bulli, but it was too far away. It

different, I might be a chef today. But I am not

would have been fascinating to visit, because the

unhappy with the way things turned out. I have

year was 1995, and I would have seen the Modern-

derived enormous enjoyment from cooking and

ist revolution at an even earlier stage than I did.

eating over the years. Ultimately, my strange

Learning about cooking requires a lot of eating,

culinary journey has given rise to this book, and to

and I have been an enthusiastic eater on my travels

a way to try to make a contribution of my own to

around the world. Long ago, I met Tim and Nina

the world of cooking.

Nathan Myhrvold

Zagat, who became dear friends and recruited me

OUR CU LI NARY JOURNEYS

X j

In the autumn of2001, while working in a biochem-

volunteer as an apprentice in his kitchen at

ical research lab after graduating with degrees in

Mistral. It was a lucky break: as protege of the chef

biochemistry and mathematics, I took a hard look at

David Bouley, William set high standards, cooked

the path ahead-several more years of schooling

great food, and taught me solid technique.

and research work-and came to the realization
that a doctorate in science was not in my future. So
what should I do? There was every reason to believe

rant, ideally abroad, and preferably in France. My

that I was employable in science. The only problem

inability to speak French posed a problem, howev-

was that my passions, at that point, lay elsewhere. I

er. Then I read an article about an obscure British

decided to get a job as a cook.

chef whose restaurant had one Michelin star and

To a lot of my friends, this seemed like a bizarre
decision. But for me, it was an obvious choice: I

who was applying scientific principles to his
cooking. No less than Harold McGee had said that

had always enjoyed cooking, so why not pursue it

Heston Blumenthal was the future of cooking. It

professionally? I figured that I would become a

sounded perfect, and, better yet, they speak

better cook and make some money at the same

English in England!

time. (Well, I was right about the first part,

My first meal at Blumenthal's restaurant, The
Fat Duck, was an epiphany. I promptly arranged a

anyway.)
As I look back on it, a career in the kitchen

three-month stage. It was not a glamorous exis-

seems to have been predestined for me. If my

tence: 18 hours of getting your ass kicked daily. If

parents are to be believed, my first word was "hot,"

you woke up feeling remotely well rested, then you

uttered after I pulled myself up to the stove top. As

were seriously late! Still, it was a fantastic job. The

a toddler, my favorite toys were pots and pans.

food we were cooking was exciting, and Heston

And when I was slightly older, I attempted recipes

was an inspiration. In June, Heston asked whether

from my mother's encyclopedic set of Time-Life's

I would help him get an experimental kitchen up

book series The Good Cook.

and running. It was not a difficult decision.

While in college, I came across an interesting

Beyond the privilege of working with Heston,

book by Harold McGee titled On Food and

running the experimental kitchen for the next four

Cooking. It captivated me. Often, when I should

years gave me the chance to work with many

have been studying science texts, I was instead

talented cooks and scientists. Harold McGee was

busy reading my copy of McGee. It made me

among them, which finally gave me the chance to

realize how much I didn't know about cooking.

tell him, "This really is all your fault."

So I got to work filling in gaps in my knowl-

But all good things must come to an end, and by

edge, cooking my way through books such as

the late summer of2007, I was ready to move back

Pepin's La Technique and La Methode. But it was

to the U.S. with my wife and son. My next job was

Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook

uncertain, but while getting ready to move, I sent

that kept me toiling away into the night, perfect-

Nathan Myhrvold-whom I had met while

ing my brunoise, skimming stocks, trussing

working at The Fat Duck-a courtesy e-mail to let

chickens, braising short ribs, and thinking about

him know that he should use my new e-mail

becoming a chef.

address if he would like to stay in touch. Three

As a student, it wasn't long before I desperately

minutes later, I received a reply: the subject line

needed to subsidize my hobby with a job. My

read "Crazy Idea," and the message said only

grocery bill was getting out ofhand! So when the

"Why don't you come work for me?"

time came to decide whether to go for the Ph.D. or
for a job in a kitchen, I hesitated only slightly.
Unsurprisingly, there was not a lot of interest in
hiring me as a cook. But I was persistent, and
eventually the Seattle chefWilliam Belickis let me

xi i

But like many young and ambitious cooks, I
thought I needed to work at an acclaimed restau-

MODERN I ST CUISINE

And that decision, too, was not difficult.
Chris Young

When I was two years old, I put my family in peril
in the name of chocolat chaud. I escaped from my
room in the middle of the night, found a pot, milk,

incorporates brilliantly into his innovative cuisine.
On moving to London, I landed a stage in the
prep kitchen of The Fat Duck, Heston Blumen-

some Nesquik and a stool to climb on, but alas no

thal's extraordinary three-Michelin-star restau-

matches. The gas was left to fill the apartment for

rant. I met the research chefs, Chris Young and

quite a while as I pondered my next culinary

Kyle Connaughton, who later invited me to spend

venture. Fortunately, tragedy was averted that

a few months working with their development

night, but my sense for culinary exploration was

team and with Heston to create new dishes for the

left uncompromised. Our family had a great

restaurant and his 2007 book, Heston Blumenthal:

passion for sharing good food, and they inspired

Further Adventures in Search of Perfection. Heston's

me to communicate through creative cooking.
My grandfather was a gourmand par excellence
who regaled us with stories of his experiences in
great restaurants, secret wine cellars, and obscure

exploration of clever flavor combinations and new
ways of presenting and refining food had a profound influence on me.
Soon after, during a visit to Lyon, I was asked by

chocolatiers. To him, food was a philosophy: "the

Jean Christophe Ansanay-Alex, the owner of

essence of existence," he would exclaim before a

L'Auberge de l'Ile, to help open a new restaurant in

feast of Gillardeau No.2 and cold Chablis. He

London. His approach to cooking, while imbued

demonstrated the joys to be found in living with

with the soul of traditional Lyonnais food, was

an open mind and an adventurous palate.

incredibly nuanced and progressive; he was a

I began to cook seriously while studying art and
literature in college. My friends and parents were

French Modernist in disguise if there ever was one.
From him I learned much: from making a proper

patient customers as I experimented with recipes

blanquette de veau and canneles aux pralines roses to

selected from my ever-growing collection of

creating liquid-center polenta beignets and craw-

cookbooks. Looking back at those early days, I

fish with nectarines and almond milk.

cringe at some of my interpretations of gastrono-

But after a few months in Lyon, I realized I was

my. But the creative freedom was alluring, and

not yet committed to being settled. I moved back to

soon I was catering dinners and small parties.

the United States and, upon reconnecting with

After college, I spent a few months at the
Institute of Culinary Education in New York City,

Chris Young, stumbled upon a most unconventional
but extraordinary opportunity. Indeed, it wasn't

which led to a two-month externship with Allison

until Nathan Myhrvold took me on as head chef of

and Slade Vines Rushing at Jack 's Luxury Oyster

his ambitious book project that I began to really

Bar, which was serving very refined Southern

explore the incredible depths of Modernist cooking.

food. The small team there permitted me far more

In the process of documenting a culinary

responsibility than I would have had in any of the

revolution in progress, we have developed a strong

other top restaurants. It was Jack Lamb, one of the

sense of what Modernist cuisine can be, even

great restaurateurs of New York, who inducted me

should be. To me, Modernist cuisine is about

into the wild world of professional restaurants.

cooking in a thoughtful way that builds on acquired

Soon after I started work at the oyster bar, the

insight while harnessing the precision of technolo-

Rushings returned to Louisiana, and Jack left it to

gy and embracing a complete openness of taste and

me to run the restaurant. Who knows what he was

creative spirit-all in the pursuit of delicious food.

thinking-! was only 22. But I gave it my all.
Eventually, I grew thirsty for more culinary
know-how and bought a one-way ticket to Europe.

Guided by Nathan's sensibility, deep knowledge,
and incredible creativity, our culinary, editorial,
and photographic teams have gone through a

I made my way to Megeve, home of chef Marc

tremendous learning process. I hope this book will

Veyrat's legendary restaurant, La Ferme deMon

be approachable, useful, and inspiring to creative

Pere. There I discovered the wonders of foraging

chefs and curious cooks everywhere.

MaximeBilet

and cooking with wild ingredients, which Veyrat

OUR CULINARY JOURN EYS

xi i i

1 HISTORY

ORIGINS
OF COOKING

6

EVOLUTION AND
REVOLUTION

14

THE SEEDS OF
MODERNISM

33

THE MODERNIST
REVOLUTION

52

THE STORY OF
THIS BOOK

83

ABOUT
THE REC I PES

93

1
HISTORY
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors

developed in some of the major world monarchies

would find many foods we eat today unrecogniz-

and discuss the role the nobility played in fostering

able, but they would likely find a meal at a restau-

this culinary advancement.

rant such as elBulli or The Fat Duck particularly
perplexing. There, foods have unexpected tex-

As cuisines diverged and matured around the
world, tradition and innovation often came into

tures and temperatures, and meals are served not

conflict. Various culinary movements arose to

just on plates but in an array of specialized

upend the traditions of the time, but the innova-

serving vessels. Dish after meticulously crafted

tions they introduced soon became codified as new

dish arrives at the table even after diners are well

traditions. In France, for example, chefs such as

beyond sated, and leftovers are discarded, not

Antonin Careme and Auguste Escoffier established

preserved for future use. Exotic fruits and vegeta-

strict culinary rules and codes that had a profound

bles are combined and transformed in ways that

influence on high-end cuisine as we know it in the

people who view food merely as a means of

Western world today.

subsistence would never contemplate. At these
restaurants, food is about art, not nutrition.
How did we get from our hunter-gatherer

In response to those strict rules, the Nouvelle
cuisine movement developed in the mid-20th
century. Setting out to shake up the French

origins to this era of culinary innovation? This

culinary establishment, the chefs associated with

chapter outlines this process, starting with the

this movement largely succeeded; they helped to

important role that cooking played in human

create a true revolution.

evolution. When early hominids harnessed fire and
learned to cook food, a series of physiological

We will argue, however, that the ultimate
culinary revolution is the one that has taken place

changes followed . The agricultural revolution led

in the past two decades. We call this the Modern-

to another major advancement in food preparation,

ist movement, and we'lllook at what makes it so

helping to usher in the idea of cooking to improve

revolutionary and so modern. We'll examine the

taste. Up to that time, cooking was primarily used

various factors that set the stage for Modernist

to make food digestible or to remove toxins, but

innovations, including the revolution in industri-

after the advent of agriculture, cooking became

alized food in the 1950s; Ferran Adria's amaz-

less of a pure necessity and more of an art.

ingly creative work at e!Bulli, in Spain; Harold

Later, in many early civilizations around the

McGee and the advent of food science for the

world, the aristocracy played an important role in

home chef; Heston Blumenthal's embrace of

the development of cuisine. Wealthy families hired

science and creativity at The Fat Duck, in Eng-

professional chefs to prepare their food, which led

land; and the advent of the sous vide method.

to vast differences between peasant fare and

Finally, we'll discuss where the Modernist

aristocratic food. We'll look at the cuisines that

revolution is today-and where it is headed.

Fire is the fundamental cooking tool.

HI STORY

5

ORIGINS OF COOKING
Nobody knows who the first cook was, but at some

by removing their bitter tannic acid. Farther

point in the distant past, early humans conquered

south, native peoples in Peru, Colombia, and

fire and started using it to prepare food. Research-

Venezuela learned to remove the cyanide from

ers have found what appear to be the remains of

cassava (also called manioc), a starchy root that is

campfires made 1.5 million years ago by Homo

used today to make tapioca and is a staple crop

erectus, one of the early human species. In his

across the tropics.

intriguing book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made

Hunter-gatherers also processed foods to pre-

Us Human, Harvard University anthropologist

serve them. Because some hunter-gatherer societies

Richard Wrangham argues that cooking wasn't

faced uncertain food supplies, particularly in

just a nicety; it played an essential role in human

winter, they developed techniques such as smoking

evolution. Cooking foods makes them more

and drying to make foods last longer. They also

digestible, so the calories and some of the nutri-

created preparations such as pemmican (a mixture

ents in them are easier to absorb. Thus, cooking

of meat, fat, and sometimes fruit) to preserve foods.

allowed early humans to tap a wider variety of

Alcohol also required elaborate preparation, and

food sources and gain more nutrition from them.

societies around the world (motivated more by

The first cooks didn't do much to their food in

pleasure than by necessity) perfected means to

the way of preparation or technique. We don't have

ferment fruit or grain into alcohol.

any recipes from prehistory, but we do have

Agriculture was invented independently at

archaeological evidence of food preparation,

different places and times around the world, as

backed up by our knowledge of how modern-day

people domesticated local plants and animals.

hunter-gatherers prepare their food. Meat is either

This advance was a major turning point in human

roasted over a fire or boiled to make it tender; fruit

history, because farming fed people more reliably

is gathered and peeled; nuts are shelled. That's

than hunting wild game and gathering wild

about it.

plants did.

Necessity, rather than taste, often dictated how

Ancient Egyptians invented many
important culinary techniques, including
the practice of force-feeding geese to
make foie gras (see page 3-138).

Farming wasn't easy in those early days.

hunter-gatherers of the past prepared their food.

Although farming worked well when the crops

Some foods had to be prepared carefully to

came in, a crop failure meant famine and death.

remove toxins. Native American tribes in Califor-

Overreliance on one or a handful of crops also

nia developed a procedure to make acorns edible

resulted in malnutrition when those crops lacked
the necessary vitamins or nutrients. As the
archaeological record clearly shows, early societies
that relied on agriculture had many health problems, including starvation and vitamin deficiency.
Gradually, however, agricultural societies improved their farming skills, increased their
productivity, and decreased the risk of famine.
Farming became more productive than hunting
and gathering.
Yet agriculture also made the diet boring.
Whereas hunter-gatherers relied on a wide variety
of plants and animals, which changed with the
seasons, farmers were more restricted in the crops
they could plant and thus ate the same foods over
and over. This motivated people to come up with
ways to make their diets more interesting and
palatable. A new reason for cooking was born:
improving the taste and variety of food.

6

VO LU ME 1

HI STORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

1
Agriculture also enabled the development of
civilization. For the most part, hunter-gatherers
could not stay in one place very long, nor could
they live together in large numbers. Agriculture
changed that. Farm fields needed to be tended, so
farmers had to stay put. Agriculturalists needed
permanent buildings for homes and other uses. In
response, cities and towns sprang up.
Because agriculture freed at least some of
society from the task of providing food, people
began to spend time doing other things. Visual
arts existed before civilization, as cave paintings
and petroglyphs show. So did music. But each of
these art form s got an enormous boost from the
advent of civilization, as did writing, religion, and
politics. In societies nurtured and supported by
farmed food, all aspects of human culture flourished, including cooking. Culinary customs were
born. Traditional cooking had begun.
Flat breads, in contrast, could be cooked simply

Various forms of traditional flatbread have
been invented all over the world.

in a pan or even on a flat rock. Cultures all over the

Peasants, Chefs, and Kings

world invented various forms of flatbread-from

In most traditional human societies, the task of

the tortilla in Mexico to the chapati in India to

daily food preparation fell primarily to women-

lejse in Norway. Because flat breads didn't require
an oven or any elaborate preparation, they were
typically made at home as part of peasant cuisine.
The professionalization ofbaking, brewing, and
winemaking occurred for three reasons: capital
equipment was expensive; increasingly complicated food products required skill and expertise
to prepare; and there was a growing number of
affiuent customers. Rich people wanted to employ
chefs and culinary artisans both for their practical
uses and as status symbols. People willing to pay
more for a better meal created a ready market for
new recipes and techniques.
In early civilizations, wealth was synonymous
with political or religious power, so the primary
employers of professional chefs were kings, aristocrats, or priests. Much the same phenomenon
occurred in the arts. Painters produced commissioned works for the king or the high priest;
jewelers made the king's crown and the queen's
jewels; architects designed the palace and temples.
This divide between professional chefs cooking
for the wealthy and peasants cooking for themselves drove the development of many cuisines.
Each side influenced the other. Professional chefs
sought to do things differently than the masses, to
create a distinct culinary experience for their elite

mothers and grandmothers-and both men and
women were heavily involved in food procurement. Civilization allowed more people to specialize in other occupations, and this trend eventually
produced a class of professional chefs, whose main
job was cooking for others. Tomb paintings,
sculptures, and archaeological remains from more
than 5,000 years ago clearly show that ancient
Egypt already had many different food-related
jobs, including butchery, baking, brewing, and
winemaking. All of these professions had their
own shops and facilities, often with multiple
employees working in well-organized kitchens.
Culinary professionals generally cooked quite
differently from the mothers and grandmothers
who were cooking only for themselves and their
families. Baking leavened bread, for example, was
largely a professional activity, because ovens were
expensive to own and operate. It took a lot of fuel
to heat the earth, clay, or brick interior of an oven,
and once you did, it would be wasteful to cook only
one loaf of bread. Anyone who could afford to own
and operate a large oven was either a professional
or someone who could afford to employ one. Most
people couldn't, so they bought or bartered for
their bread.

HISTORY

Civilization is defined in many
ways, but most commonly as a
human society that has developed
advanced agriculture, longdistance trade, specialized
professions, and at least some
urban populations.

7

As early as the 17th century,
England had a fascination with the
Continent and with French chefs.
More often than not, when English
gentry wanted to eat well, they
imported a French chef, a pattern
that continued for most of the next
350 years.

clientele. Common people sought to adopt some

neatest and compleatest that ever attend the

of the finer things in life by copying the dishes

French Court and Armies. I have taught him
to speak English, to the end that he may be

served at royal tables.
Countries with a long history of a large and

able to wait in your Lordships Kitchin; and

stable aristocracy or ruling class developed the

furth your Table with several! Sauces ofhaut

most complex, highly refined, and elaborate

goust, & with dainty ragousts, and sweet

cuisines. These were the people who could employ

meats, as yet hardly known in this Land.

professional chefs-and use food as a form of
one-upmanship.
France is perhaps the best example. Despite

Besides the quaint punctuation and spelling, this
preface clearly lays out what would be the story for

having a vibrant regional peasant cuisine, France

the next three centuries: France had a reputation

has been dominated by aristocratic food for

for having the world's best chefs.

centuries. Early on, French nobles and other
members of the ruling class used dinners as status

Chinese food is another example of an aristocratically driven cuisine. The enormous variety of

symbols. Most of the early French chefs, such as

Chinese dishes stems from the imperial court,

La Varenne and Antonin Careme (see Early

which governed China for more than 1,000 years

French Gastronomy, next page), climbed the

(under one dynasty or another). The same sort of

career ladder by trading up to ever more powerful

thing occurred with the Moghul rulers of north-

and wealthy patrons.

ern India and with the kings of Thailand. In each

France is especially interesting because it

country, the monarchy and its cadre of bureau-

achieved renown for its cooking very early. La

crats and aristocrats supported full-time, profes-

Varenne's bookLe Cuisinier Fran~ois, published in

sional chefs, who created a rich and varied cuisine.
England also had an elaborate monarchy, which

1651, was translated into English in 1653. Titled
The French Cook, the English edition included the

ruled for a thousand years, but the geography

following preface, which took the form of a dedica-

made the development of a sophisticated cuisine

tion to a wealthy patron (as was customary at the

difficult. Plant and animal diversity is a direct

time) :

result of climate: a cold climate leads to relatively
low diversity, providing less varied ingredients for

T O THE RIGHT HONORABLE

a chef to work with.
As a result, far northern (or in the Southern

John, Earl ofTannet
Cooking traditions were documented in
cookbooks with period recipes and
techniques, as well as in paintings like
these: a cook preparing liver alongside
a butcher in a 14th-century kitchen (left)
and an elaborate medieval Italian banquet
(right).

6

My very good Lord. Of all Cookes in the

Hemisphere, far southern) cuisines do not have

World the French are esteem' d the best, and

the variety of dishes that equatorial regions

of all Cookes that ever France bred up, this

produce. The Viking kings of Scandinavia and

m ay very well challenge the first place, as the

the tsars of Russia had well-established courts

VOLUM E 1 · HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTA LS

1
CUISINIER
FRANCOIS
ENSE£GNANT [. .A llfANfERE
de bien apprend ,e & aff,ifor·ner lcs
Vtandrs qui fe fervent aux quatre
faifons de l'a nu e~, en Ia Table des
Gra!lds & des particuliers.
LA MANlE"R..,E PE FA17(B
/e 71oWI!on J-" OIIr l.s "ourrittlre d~ :oFHI~J
corps,foit tk.,porag~, ~n:r;e oA :ntre-r.:etJ

HISTORY

9

Abu 1-Hasan "Ali Ibn Nafi," known
as Ziryab, was a prominent court
member in the Umayyad Dynasty
of Cordoba between 822 and 857.
He is credited with the introduction
of asparagus and the creation of the
three-course meal (soup, main
co urse, and dessert). He also
introduced crystal goblets to tab le
service, and it is even said that he
invented the tablecloth.

and ruled for centuries, but like England, they did
not have elaborate cuisines (and, like the English,
they imported their share of French chefs).
Sweeping views of history, like the patterns
in cuisine discussed here, are always simplifications of a more complicated situation, so there
are exceptions. Spain fits the theory only up to
a point. It has a Mediterranean climate and had
a long-standing monarchy and aristocracy that
accumulated enormous wealth by exploiting
the New World. Yet traditional Spanish cuisine
owes more to farm and peasant life than to that
of the great Spanish court. That is less true in
Andalusia, where cuisine from the Islamic courts
made a lasting contribution.
There are many wonderful traditional German

The Forme ofCury is the oldest

cookbook written in English. It was
compiled about 1390 by the
master coo ks of King Richard II.
Resea rchers studying it made a
surprising an nouncement in
2003-the book contains a recipe
for lasagna. The dish, called loseyns
in Old English (pro nounced
"lasan"), cons ists of nood les ro lled
as flat and wide "as paper," cooked
in broth, layered with cheese, and
baked. This recipe predates any
Italian reference to the dish, wh ich
leads to the surprising conclusion
that lasagna may be British.

:I

Italy provides an even better example of how
political fragmentation can affect cuisine. Blessed
by a favorable climate, the region produces a full
range of fruits and vegetables, which is ideal for
culinary diversity.
Italy would not be unified as a country until
1870. In the interim, the region was a patchwork
of duchies, principalities, city-states, republics,
and territories controlled by foreign monarchs.
There was no permanent or centralized Italian
monarchy, and thus no royal court for which chefs
could create new dishes.
Italy did have one permanent fixture, the
Papacy, and some distinctive foods were developed for its religious feasts and celebrations. But
this was not the same sort of imperial haute

foods, but most come from the peasant table, such
as the numerous varieties of hearty sausages and

cuisine found in France or China.
Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance and

hams. One reason may be that Germany never had
a long-standing aristocracy of sufficient scale.

played a central role in the creation of modern
Western civilization. Yet Italy has always sought

Germany was not unified as a country until the
late 19th century. Before that time, the region was

legitimacy for its food in its peasant origins. Some
experts argue that Italy's great cities-such as

carved into pieces ruled by various European
empires or complex confederations of countries

Rome, Milan, and Florence-have been the
centers of its culinary innovation, but the culinary

such as Prussia, Bohemia, Swabia, and Bavaria.
Germany also suffered from its northern location,

tradition within Italy tends to be rooted in the
countryside. Although professional chefs and city

which limited the diversity of indigenous fruits,

dwellers have made many contributions to the
cuisine, the heart of modern Italian cooking is still

vegetables, and herbs.

I;

,\ \arcus Ga\ ius r\picius \\as a famous Roman epicure who
lived in the early 1st century A.D. Early histories tell us that
Apicius went to great lengths to find good ingrl•dients-for

until done." The book included sections on meats, vegetables, legumes, fowl. and seafood . Tlw meat chapter offered
recipes for domestic livestock as well as venison, boar, and

instance , he onn• sailed .111 the \\,1\ to Libya to eat some
supposedly great prawns , only to return honw without
finding any to his satisfaction. One of the first cookbooks in

even dormouse Ia small member of the squirrel family),
while the fowl section included recipl'S for crane, ostrich,
flamingo, and peacock. i\\ost of the recipes in the booke\·en sweet dishes that we would consider dessl•rts - includ-

recorded historv is attrilwted to him , but historians ha\e
sincl' concluded that the -lOO-plus recipes in tlw booktitled /Jc rc wquinaria. or I he Art ofCookinq-were not
compiled until the -lth or :>th century and deriH' from many
sources . Tod,1\ the book is often referred to as Apii ius .
Likl' many contempor.1ry cookbooks, it is eli\ ided into
sections based on main ingredients, ,Jithough unlike contempor.Jry cookbooks, it did not spl•cify measurements ,Jild
often omitted preparation techniques, simply s.1ying "cook

10

ed a sauce made with gorum, a fermented fish sauce Isee
page 3 ·121).
This sauce and the plethora of spin•s are typical of the
sophisticated and elaborate Imperial Roman cuisine, which
is almost nothing like what we think of as Italian food.
lnstl•ad, it is closer in spirit to Thai or Indian cuisine today,
although it has a tlavor profile that is quite distinct from
theirs or thosl' of other l'Xtant cuisines .

VOL UM E l · HI STORY AND FUN DAM ENTALS

1
THE HISTORY OF

Laser
Laser, a seasoning used in ancient Greece
and Rome, was one ofthe first "it" ingredients. Extracted from silphion, one of the
wild giant fen nels known as silphium,
laser was a resinous juice used extensively in ancient Mediterranean cuisines,
primarily in sauces. References to the
ingredient were peppered throughout the
first Roman cookbook, Apicius (see previous
page). People also ate silphium stalks, roots, and
leaves, whose flavor may have been similar to that of
parsley or celery. Farmers were supposedly unsuccessful in
their attempts to grow silphium, so it became a rare and
expensive commodity-literally worth its weight in silver.
Why was the seasoning so sought after? In addition to
being a versatile culinary ingredient, laser was used for
medicinal purposes (primarily as a digestive aid) and possibly as a contraceptive. Some scholars believe that its birth-

considered to be in the nation's fertile land and the
people who farm it.
At an earlier point in history, the Italians did
have a central political authority-when ancient
Romans ruled their empire. The Roman Empire

Silphium appears on a coin from Cyrene, a Greek colony in what is
now Libya. Silphium, the source of laser. was its major crop.

control properties were the real reason for its
popularity. In any event, silphium became
extinct around the 1st century A. D., probably
due to overharvesting or overgrazing.
Its closest living relative is asafetida, a far more
pungent (even foul-smelling) plant that is used as a
condiment in parts of South America and India. The
Romans also used it, but they complained that it was vastly
inferior to laser. "The Cyrenaic kind [laser], even if one just
tastes it, at once arouses a humour throughout the body and
has a very healthy aroma, so that it is not noticed on the
breath, or only a little; but the Median [asafetida] is weaker in
power and has a nastier smell," wrote Pedanius Dioscorides,
a Greek pharmacist and botanist practicing in Rome in the 1st
century A.D.

(if ever) encountered in contemporary Italian
cuisine. Meanwhile, basil, which is a staple
seasoning in Italian cooking today, is mentioned
only once in Apicius.
Among the most sought-after Roman season-

had a fully developed imperial cuisine that drew on

ings was laserpicium, or laser (see above), the

fo ods from all over the known world. Roman food

extract of a plant that the Romans loved so much,

preparations have been passed down in the ancient

they ate it to extinction. Losing laser was a blow

cookbookApicius (see previous page). The cook

The asaroton is a style of Roman mosaic
depicting the unswept floor after a
banquet. As one might guess. it was
popular in dining rooms. These mosaics
tell us a lot about ancient Roman eating
habits-and how messy the banquets
were. It also tells us that the Romans had
a sense of humor. Why else would they
have used using expensive mosaics to
mimic a morning-after mess?

who compiled this book wrote for other professional chefs, and he described a rich and varied
cuisine. Many of the recipes call for imported
spices and show considerable sophistication.
But from a culinary perspective, Roman is not
the same as Italian. Virtually none of the dishes
mentioned in Apicius are recognizable as the
Italian cooking we know today.
One of the key Roman condiments and seasonings was garum, a fermented fish sauce similar to
Asian fish sauce and thought to be a very early
predecessor ofWorcestershire sauce (see page
5·121). The Romans added their fish sauce to
everything, including desserts, but it doesn't
appear in today's Italian recipes at all.
The Romans also used lovage extensively, along
with cumin and coriander. These flavors are rarely

HISTORY

11

to Roman cuisine on the order of what would

In antiquity, the seafaring Greeks learned from

happen to French cooking if black truffies became

neighboring civilizations and brought home new

extinct.

flavors, such as lemons from the Middle East,

Garlic is only rarely called for in Apicius, and

especially during the exploits of Alexander the

when it is, the quantity is minuscule-often not

Great. Greeks took their culinary expertise with

enough to taste. Imagine Italian food without

them to Rome, where Greek cooks introduced

garlic or basil; now imagine it loaded with lovage,

composed dishes to the Romans and the rest of

cumin, coriander, and fish sauce. Ancient Roman

Europe.

cuisine clearly did not have the same flavor profile

Early Greek traders settled in southern France

as the Italian food of today. The amazing conclu-

2,500 years ago, founding Massalia (now Mar-

sion is that ancient Roman cuisine was utterly

seilles) and introducing wine to the region that

different from what we think of as Italian cuisine

would later produce C6tes-du-Rh6ne vintages,

today.

according to a recent Cambridge University study.

The fall of the Roman Empire in about 500 A.D.

The chief record of early Greek food and drink

ushered in the Middle Ages, a 1,000-year period

As Italian as fermented fish sauce?
Amazingly, that was the omnipresent
seasoning of both the Romans (garum)
and the ancient Greeks (garos).

remains fragments from lost literature, which have

during which many vestiges of Roman culture,

survived only in quotations recorded in later

including recipes, were obliterated. Italian food

works such as the comedies of Aristophanes. What

as a concept disappeared and was replaced by

may be the world's first gourmet travel book, Life

a pan-European medieval cuisine that had little to

of Luxury, is a mock epic poem written about

do with the previous Roman cuisine. Medieval

330 B.C. It is preserved in excerpts quoted in

European cuisine as a whole seems to have had

Athenaeus's Philosophers at Dinner, from 200 A.D.

little regional variability-the Italian cookbooks

The poet who wrote it, Archestratos of Gela, Sicily,

of the era contain recipes that are virtually indis-

toured the cosmopolitan ancient Greek world

tinguishable from those of France, England, and

from the Black Sea to southern Italy, recording the

other European countries.

cuisine. He favored fish dishes prepared simply

Medieval cuisine was highly flavored with

with light seasoning such as fresh thyme and olive

imported spices, particularly pepper, cinnamon,

oil, or with cheese sauces and pungent herbs such

ginger, and saffron. The love of imported spices

as silphium. Garos (fermented fish sauce) or herb

was shared with ancient Roman cuisine, but the

pickles were balanced with honey.

spices, dishes, and flavor profiles were entirely

Sicily was also home to the ancient Greek

different.

colony of Sybaris, known for its elaborate food and

An analysis of an early English cookbook found
The ancient Greeks invented much
of our current political structure,
as well as the origins of our
mathematics and philosophy.
While we can still see parts of their
seminal contributions to literature
and architecture, many works
documenting their cuisine have
been lost or are not well known.

entertainment-source of the word "sybaritic"

that fully 40% of the savory dishes contained large

today. The colony held cooking contests and

amounts of cinnamon. Ginger was the second

crowned the winning mageiros (cook). Sybaris

most popular spice in savory dishes. This food

even had a law protecting culinary inventions:

bears little resemblance to European cuisine today.

"And if any caterer or cook invented any peculiar

Only a few rare dishes hint at the highly spiced

and excellent dish, no other artist was allowed to

past: gingerbread, for example, or the cardamom-

make this for a year; but he alone who invented it

laced breads of Scandinavia. The flavor profile of

was entitled to all the profit to be derived from the

European food in the Middle Ages was in many

manufacture of it for that time."

ways closer to the spice-oriented profile we associ-

The ancient Greek historian
Herodotus tells us that the ancient
Egyptians "never sow beans, and
even if any happen to grow wild,
they will not eat them, either raw
or boiled: Yet today, the national
staple dish of Egypt isfuul, or
foof. -stewed fava beans.

12

In contrast, the mainland Greek city-state of

ate with Indian or Thai food today. Ultimately, the

Sparta had a strict military culture marked by

medieval cuisine disappeared as various regions

frugality and the avoidance ofluxury-source of

developed their own culinary traditions.

the word spartan. The most prevalent dish, for

Similarly, contemporary Greek food is mainly
of recent peasant origins, although it reflects some

example, was black broth, a thin soup of pork, pig's
blood, and vinegar. A Sybarite writer noted,

Turkish influences from the Ottoman Empire,

"Naturally the Spartans are the bravest men in the

which ruled Greece for centuries. The cuisine

world. Anyone in his senses would rather die 10,000

today bears few similarities with the delicate,

times than take his share of such a sorry diet."

often sophisticated cooking of ancient Greece.

VOLUME 1 ·HIS TORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

In general, the ancient Greeks valued their

1
chefs. Consider this passage about Demetrius of
Phalerum, a diplomat who governed Athens in the
early 4th century B.c.: "He bought Moschion, the
most skillful of all the cooks and confectioners of
that age. And he had such vast quantities of food
prepared for him every day, that, as he gave
Moschion what was left each day, he (Moschion)
in two years purchased three detached houses in
the city." That's the kind of success any chef
today would like to have. It's made all the more
poignant by the word "bought"; Moschion, like
many cooks of his era, was a slave. Unfortunately,
the recipes of Moschion, the legally protected
dishes of Sybaris, and even the bad black broth of
Sparta have all vanished.
That is a sad fact of culinary history. One of the
great losses to human culture is that the food of
many empires did not survive. Homer records
many feasts in the Iliad and Odyssey, but frustratinglywithout recipes. Egyptian cooks in the
pharaohs' courts did not record their recipes. Yet
Egypt invented foie gras! What other delicacies

number of Mayan books, which might have
included a Mayan equivalent of Apicius, were

did it have? We may never know. When civiliza-

confiscated and burned by Bishop Diego de
Landa in 1562. Today, only three survive, none

tions die or disperse, their cooking often dies with
them. Some peasant dishes may survive, but the

of which mentions cooking. The peasant cuisine
in the area that has survived seems unlikely to

refined dishes of the upper classes usually don't.
Among the most significant losses in the history
of gastronomy is the disappearance of ancient
North and South American recipes, including
those of the Aztec, Incan, Mayan, and Mound
Builder civilizations.
Mayan cuisine relied heavily on chocolate,
domesticated 3,000 years ago in what is now
Honduras. Au Cacao, or Lord Chocolate, a king
who ruled the Mayan city-state ofTikal, was
named after the prized ingredient. The Mayan
word for cacao, kakawa, means "god food," and
the cacao tree was considered sacred (as was the
maize plant).
The Mayans also had a rich culture that
produced an elaborate society centered on great
stone cities. They made many major discoveries

Tikal. one of the great cities of the Mayan
world, was once ruled by Au Cacao, whose
name translates as "Lord Chocolate."

represent the full range of aristocratic Mayan
cuisine.
The story of Aztec cuisine is similar. In this
case, we have one eyewitness report from Bernal
Diaz del Castillo, a conquistador who accompanied Hernando Cortes. Diaz was present at a
dinner served to Motecuhzoma, the Aztec
emperor:
For his meals his cooks had more than 30
styles of dishes made according to their
fashion and usage; and they put them on

An early Spanish drawing from 16thcentury Mexico shows chocolate being
poured from a great height into a bowl.

small low clay braziers so they would not get
cold. They cooked more than 300 dishes of
the food that Motecuhzoma was going to
eat, and more than a thousand more for the
men of the guard.

in mathematics and astronomy. It seems likely
that a group of people who worshipped chocolate
and named their kings after it probably cared

served in this 30-course tasting menu.

enough about food to have a distinctive cuisine
with some pretty good recipes.

Other civilizations, such as the Inca of Peru and
the Mound Builder culture of Cahokia, in the

But we'll never know. The Mayan civilization

No one knows what delicacies would have been

central United States, likely had many great

began to decline in 900 A.D., some 600 years

recipes as well, but the efforts of their professional

before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. A large

chefs are lost to history.

HISTORY

13

EVOLUTION AND REVOLUTION
Much of the mot ivation forthe
discovery of the New Wo rld was
related to cooking. Christopher
Columbus and other ea rly exp lorers were looking fo r better ways to
trade sp ices- an extremely
lucrative and strategic business,
due to the high reliance on spices
in Eu ropean cuisine at the time.

One of the themes of this book is exploring the

not ofltalian origin. Mozzarella di bujala is

culinary revolution that has occurred in the past

Italian, but the water buffaloes that produce it

20 years and that continues to unfold in cutting-

aren't-they are native to Southeast Asia. Toma-

edge kitchens around the world. Like all revolu-

toes are indigenous to the Americas, as are the

tions, it is defined in part by its context-the

corn used to make polenta and the chocolate and

previous world order that it is rebelling against

vanilla used in desserts. Potatoes, which work so

and changing. Understanding this context is

nicely in potato gnocchi, are from South America,

essential to appreciating the new regime.

as are the hot peppers that flavor many Italian
sauces. Rice, now used in Italy to make risotto,
originated in Asia. Eggplants came from India.

The Myth ofTradition

Carrots came from Afghanistan. Almonds came

There is a large and vocal school of thought in the

from the Middle East.
How about espresso-surely that counts as

world of food and gastronomy that celebrates
tradition. People who advocate this point of view
By some meas ures, Spain has had
more influence on Western cuisine
than any ot her co untry in the
world . The new fruits and vegetab les that Spanish co nquistadors
brought back to Euro pe from the ir
exp lorations of the New Wo rld
utterly cha nged European cuisine.
Explorers from ot her Europea n
co untries- including the Norwegian and Icelandic Vikings, the
Po rtuguese, and the English- also
imported New Wo rld foods, but
Spain took the lead in making
agricu ltural use of the newfou nd
plants, including tomatoes,
potatoes, bea ns, corn, cocoa, and
chili peppe rs.

Italian? Indeed it does, because the technique was

seek out the authentic and original aspects of

invented in Italy, though of course the coffee bean

cuisine, placing in high esteem food experiences

was originally imported from the Arabian Penin-

that conform to traditional styles and values. This

sula. And espresso only seems traditional now; it

group's motto might be, "Old ways are best."

was originally invented as a fast food in the early

People in this camp are generally more interested

1900s (see Espresso's Invention, page 4-372). The

in a recipe from Grandma's farmhouse than they

word espresso actually means "fast."
It would be difficult to find a traditional Italian

are in a contemporary chef's latest creations.
This view is possible, however, only if you shut

menu based only on ingredients that are native to

your eyes to history. What we call "traditional"

Italy. Even if you did, that menu would likely bear

cuisine is a convenient fiction. Culinary practices

little resemblance to medieval Italian or ancient

have been changing constantly throughout

Roman cuisine.

history. Investigate a "traditional" food closely

What caused these shifts? Why did the ancient

enough, and you'll find that it was new at some

Romans avoid basil and garlic, while modern-day

point, perhaps not even all that long ago. Tradi-

Italians love them? Why do Italian cooks now

tion, at least in the food world, is the accumulated

eschew fermented fish sauce, cumin, and lovage?

leftovers from changes wrought in the past.
Italian food provides a great example. It is one
of the most popular national cuisines in the world;

And what about the medieval phase, when there
was no Italian food as such and Italians ate the
same heavily spiced foods as the English?

you can find Italian restaurants in every major

Those changes didn't happen overnight.

city on earth. The cuisine is a favorite of many

A period of gradual evolution de-emphasized

traditionalists, who see it as a deeply authentic,

some flavor profiles and increased the popularity

artisanal, homey kind of food. Italian cuisine is

of others. Certain ingredients lost their appeal,

certainly wonderful, but the notion that it is

while other, newly discovered ones came to

steeped in native tradition is unfounded. Almost

dominate the culinary landscape.
This is not to devalue Italian food-far from it.

all modern Italian cuisine is based on ingredients
and recipes borrowed from outside Italy.

14

Italian chefs deserve tremendous credit for creat-

Pasta isn't Italian. The Chinese ate noodles at

ing a delicious and varied cuisine. The point we

least 3,000 years earlier than the Italians did. One

are making here is that it's wrong to view Italian

theory says that pasta was brought back to Italy by

cuisine as a collection of carefully maintained

Marco Polo in the late 13th century, but more

culinary traditions from the past. Indeed, it

recent scholarship suggests that Arab traders

devalues the creativity ofltalian chefs to imagine

introduced pasta to Muslim Sicily several centu-

that they are just passing along their grandmoth-

ries before Polo's trip. Either way, pasta is surely

ers' recipes verbatim. The history ofltalian food is

VO LU M E 1 · HI STORY AN D FUN DAM ENTALS

1
not about faithfully preserving authentic tradi-

ingly, the kiwifruit isn't even native to New

tions; it is about creativity, innovation, and novelty.

Zealand; it originally came from southern China.

Similar stories occur around the world. At

Like new ingredients, new techniques are

a recent Sichuan-style dinner in Beijing, one of us

typically introduced one or a few at a time. Thus,

tried to find a dish on the table that was entirely

people don't actually experience a "change in

Chinese-and failed, because most Sichuan food

cuisine" as such; they just try a new dish. If they

has chili peppers in it, and they are native to South

like it, more people begin to make and eat it.

America. The Chinese province of Sichuan has

In 1981, chef Michel Bras invented a chocolate

a long-standing interest in spicy foods, including

cake with a liquid center. Its fame spread, but it

the native Sichuan peppercorn and imported black

was a complicated and exacting recipe to to make.

pepper. However, the imported chili so appealed

Then, in 1987,Jean-Georges Vongerichten pre-

to people that they adopted it with great enthusi-

pared a simple chocolate cake (based on a recipe

asm. Chilies weren't the only foreign imports on

from his mother) for a catered party of 300.

the table; other dishes had eggplant, okra (from

Hurrying to serve the group, he and his team

Africa), and corn.

crowded their ovens and rushed the cakes to the

This pattern holds true even in less prosperous

table, only to discover they were grossly under-

societies, such as subsistence-farming communi-

baked and still liquid in the center. Expecting the

ties in Africa, where the major staple crops include

worse, Vongerichten entered the banquet room to

cassava and corn (both from South America).

apologize, only to be greeted by a standing

These two foods are the most important sources of

ovation. They loved the liquid center cake. It

nutrition for Africa. Other major crops in Africa

created a sensation, and "molten chocolate cake"

that originated elsewhere include bananas (from

of one form or another is now found on restaurant

Southeast Asia) and peanuts, sweet potatoes, and

menus and in home kitchens around the globe.

beans (all from South America). The only staple

In this evolutionary approach, nobody sits

crops native to Africa are millet, sorghum, and

down to a totally new cuisine all at once; instead,

okra, but they are very much in the minority.

the culinary development occurs gradually, one

Imported ingredients gain acceptance at
different rates. New World explorers brought
many new ingredients back to Europe, but they

new dish at a time.
This is also what happens with biological
evolution: wildly divergent species are produced

didn't all become popular right away. Some, such

by the accumulation of small changes. And it's the

as chocolate and tobacco, were instant sensations.

process that shapes human language. English and

Others took decades or longer to infiltrate

German split from a common Germanic ancestor

a country's cuisine.

language, just as French, Spanish, Italian, and

A recent example is the kiwifruit, which was
introduced to England in 1953 and the United

Romanian diverged from the Latin of the ancient
Romans. As with a language, you can't change a

States in 1962. In the U.S., the kiwi's chief cham-

cuisine overnight, but over a surprisingly short

pion was Frieda Caplan, a distributor of exotic

period, you can nonetheless change it completely.

fruits and vegetables. At the time, kiwifruit was

People who subscribe to the traditional view of

grown only in New Zealand, and marketing it was

culinary history tend to forget this. The influen-

an uphill battle. But Caplan's efforts, along with its

tial food writer Michael Pollan recommends that

adoption by chefs of the Nouvelle cuisine move-

we eat only foods that our great-grandmothers

ment (see page 24), made the fruit popular

would recognize. At first, this sounds like sage

worldwide.

advice, particularly if you are tired of the recent

Today, kiwifruit can be found in practically any
supermarket in the United States. An Internet

Michel Bras's chocolate cou/ant is a
two-part recipe. A frozen ganache
core is surrounded by a crisp,
cookie-like dough made with rice
starch. The assembly is baked in a
special mold.
Vongerichten's cake is a simp le
one-part chocolate cake batter
made with ordinary flour; its on ly
d istinction is being baked briefly in
a very hot oven. Both cakes attain
a liquid chocolate center, but by
different means. The simpler
version was easier for chefs of less
skill to copy, which helped it gain
popularity. Today, the vast
majority of all recipes for the cake
are closer to Vongerichten's
approach.

onslaught of junk food. But consider this: if your
great-grandmother and her great-grandmother

search in 2010 for kiwifruit recipes returned more

(and so forth stretching back in time) had taken

than 1.5 million hits. At some point in the future,

Pollan's advice, where would we be? It doesn't

recipes that include kiwifruit will be considered

take very many generations of this great-grand-

part of traditional American cuisine, and likely the

mother rule to erase all of what we know today as

cuisines of several other nations as well. Interest-

traditional foods .

HISTORY

Kiwifruit is an example of an exotic fruit
that took a while to gain acceptance.

15

That may seem like an unfair criticism. After all,
Pollan's rule is driven by his concern that much of

world, but they are common in other disciplines,
such as music, art, architecture-even science.

what we eat is not good for us due to modern

Indeed, much of our understanding of art and

interference with natural foods. It's easy to assume

cultural history is based on the study of revolu-

that generations long ago didn't face the same kind

tionary cultural movements.

of technological processing of foodstuffs.
Actually, they did! The history of food shows us
that just this sort of concern about health has

Visual art is perhaps the best example. Throughout the history ofWestern art, movements or
schools have set the criteria that defined the look of

shaped the adoption of many culinary changes

the age. Sometimes these movements were inspired

throughout the ages. Tomatoes were considered

by technological advances-such as the develop-

poisonous when first imported to Europe. This

ment of oil paints, which provided a vastly different

worry was false, but it had some rationale behind

range of color and tone than did the egg tempera

it: tomatoes are part of the deadly nightshade

paints that came before. But more often, the origin

family. Lingering suspicions about tomatoes kept

of a new school or movement had to do with

them out of the diets of many Europeans for

aesthetics pioneered by a group of artists who broke

a hundred years or more. Ironically, people in

away from their predecessors with a new look.

Florence and the surrounding region of Tuscany
Tomatoes were imported to Europe from
the Americas by Spanish conquistadors in
the mid-lSOOs, but three centuries
elapsed before the fruits were fully
accepted, due to lingering concerns over
their safety.

Of all of the artistic movements in history,

were among the late adopters of tomatoes, lagging

Impressionism is probably the most relevant for

more than a century behind other Mediterranean

understanding the development of modern

regions. Many other imported foods, including

cuisine, in part because of the movement's famil-

potatoes, suffered similar delays as health suspi-

iarity. In many ways, Impressionism blazed the

cions made people wary of them. Ironically,

trail for the rest of modern art. It was part of the

tobacco, which we now know is very harmful to

first wave of Modernism, a metamovement that

our health, was adopted very quickly in Europe.

would ultimately shake the foundations of art,

A lot of progress has been made in our scientific

architecture, graphic design, and literature.
The Impressionists were among a group of

knowledge of what is good and bad for us, which is
another reason to question the great-grandmother

artists who painted in disparate styles but were

rule. Would you really want to be treated by your

united by their rebellion against the strict and

great-grandmother's doctor rather than by

formulaic rules of their time. Their starting point

a physician today?

as a group was that their paintings were refused

A major theme of this book is about changes in
what we eat. These changes are controversial and

entry to the exhibitions organized by the art
establishment of that era, so they put on their own

are opposed by culinary traditionalists. We

exhibitions (and were heavily criticized for it-see

believe everyone is entitled to personal culinary

The Rough Start for Impressionist Art, page 18).

preferences. If people want to eat only what they

Of course, very simple dishes, such

as grilled fish or roast chicken, are
not unique to any time period.
(Chickens originated in Asia, by the
way.) But once you get past these
dishes to those that express
characteristic preparation techniques or characteristic flavor
profiles, you rapidly discover that
everything was new and radical at
some point in time.

16

The Impressionists were the first artists to be

think of as traditional foods and avoid recent

self-consciously modern. They believed that art

innovations, that's their prerogative. But as we

wasn't just about creating a realistic rendition of

make these choices, it is important to remember

a subject; to them, art was first and foremost an

that every aspect of cuisine was an innovation at

intellectual dialogue. For the Impressionists,

some point in time, and in many cases not that

simply rendering the subject accurately was beside

long ago. Making a choice based on tradition alone

the point; indeed, excessive attention to accuracy

is worse than drawing the proverbial line in the

would get in the way of what the artist was at-

sand; it is like trying to draw a line in a river.

tempting to communicate. We accept that idea
today; in fact, it is central to our definition of art.
But in the 1870s, when the Impressionists were

True Revolution

getting off the ground, it was a still a radical

Gradual change is the norm. Every now and then,

concept.
Impressionism was the subject of public ridi-

however, culture is altered more radically-by
revolution rather than evolution. Disruptive

cule when it first emerged. Indeed, the very word

changes of this kind are relatively rare in the food

"Impressionism" came from a bitingly satirical

VOLUME 1

HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

1
newspaper essay by an art critic, who based the
name on Monet's painting Impression, Sunrise.
The critic's goal was to ridicule the movement, but
the young artists accepted the name and moved
forward undaunted. Ultimately, the Impressionists won. Public perception changed, and what was
previously considered ugly or unfinished came to
be viewed as beautiful and artistic.
Today, Impressionism is probably the most
popular artistic style. People who like modern art
regard the Impressionists as the progenitors of the
modern movement. And those with more classical
tastes still find the paintings beautiful. Impressionism is the ideal crossover genre, beloved by
people who still feel a lingering desire for representational and realistic art as well as by those who
buy into a more abstract agenda.
The greatest legacy of the Impressionists is that
they were among the first to establish the model of
artists rebelling against the system. Following the
Impressionists, one wave after another of artists
launched new movements or schools: Cubism,

military force. Typically, avant-garde movements
are at first controversial and misunderstood, and
the participants revel in that outsider status.
Ultimately, at least in successful movements, the
artists are accepted to some extent by the art
world and gain some degree of fame.
We have become so used to this pattern that it is
almost viewed as a job requirement: young artists
are expected to be part of an avant-garde. They
either join the movement du jour or conspire to
create a new one. It would seem very strange, at
least within popular perception, for young artists
to be willing conformists to the existing order.
The specific artistic goals differ, of course, and
both artists and art critics might violently disagree
with this broad-brush analysis. Amusingly, toward
the end of their careers, most of the original
Impressionist artists disliked Picasso's Cubism
and other artistic movements that had become
current at that time. Their reaction was little
different from the reaction of the art establish-

Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism,

ment in their day, because by that point they had
become the establishment.

Minimalism, and many more. In this model,
bands of artists, sharing some common goals but

Impressionism was the most famous of the
artistic movements that marked the late 19th

disagreeing on others, challenge the status quo to
determine the course of the art world.

century, but broadly similar trends were happening in architecture, literature, music, and other

At first, these movements are the avant-garde,
a French term synonymous with "vanguard"-

fields of human cultural endeavor as well. Critics
and analysts have termed this broader meta move-

literally, the troops sent out in advance of a main

ment "Modernism," a megatrend that did much to

HISTORY

Monet's water lily paintings are classic
examples of Impressionism. Today, we
think they are beautiful, but they were
highly controversial when they were first
exhibited.

17

define the cultural agenda for the 20th century.

trends that created a new world order. That

Change was in the air in every field. Architects
such as Le Corbusier, Antoni Gaudi, Walter

wrenching change, some argue, drove Modernism.
Other observers put it the other way around:

Gropius, AdolfLoos, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe,

the sense of progress, renewal, and change gave

and Frank Lloyd Wright changed the way buildings were designed. New technologies had their

social thinkers a reason to revisit and revise ideas
that would otherwise have been sacrosanct. This is

play. Photography and cinema were invented and
quickly became major art forms in their own right.

a more introspective tale of Modernism, driven by
the notion that all areas of human life deserved to

There was a strong sense that the world 's cultural

be "modern," to be rethought from scratch. Either

values needed to be reviewed, renewed, and

way, the avant-garde was a key element of Modernism, a theme explored by Renate Poggioli in his

reformed across every discipline.
Some analysts and observers like to view

influential book, The Theory of the Avant-Garde.

Modernism as a reaction to the technological and
social trends that were occurring at the same time:
the rise of industrialization; the movement of the

The Curious Case of Cuisine

population from farms to cities; the rise of democ-

Interestingly, virtually all of the cultural revolutionaries who launched these movements ate very

racy in the Western world; and the changes
wrought by new technologies. These were powerful

conventional food. It is truly striking that Mod-

THE HISTORY OF

The Rough Start for Impressionist Art
As widely esteemed as Impressionist painting is today, it
was misunderstood, ridiculed, and even reviled by critics
and the public when it first emerged .
Like their predecessors in the Barbizon School of art, the
Impressionists often painted landscapes and outdoor
scenes. But they approached their subjects differently,
depicting the play of light and shadow with bright, vivid
colors. Impressionist paintings were characterized by quick
brush strokes, an emphasis on the changing qualities of light
with the passage of time, a strong sense of movement,
unusual visual angles, and an interest in capturing contemporary life.
At first, many art critics and viewers were openly hostile
toward the Impressionists. They saw the works' sketchy,
unfinished qualities as evidence that the artists lacked "skill
and knowledge." At the 1874 exhibition, Monet's painting
Impression, Sunrise (from which the name Impressionism was
derived) became a particular target of criticism, largely
because viewers were confused by it. Manet chose not to
exhibit with the rest of the group, but the art press nevertheless dubbed him "the chief ofthe School of Smudges and
Spots." At the group's second exhibition, in 1876, visitors and
critics derided the artists for what they saw as haphazard
technique and "vulgar" or "discordant" representations of
everyday objects. Newspapers of the era carried cartoons
suggesting that the paintings were so horribly ugly that they

18

-Madame ~

eela nc scrait pu prudent. Relir~·TOUI I

The cartoon suggests that pregnant women should not be allowed
into Impressionist exhibits. The paintings were considered so ugly, it
was feared they would make the women miscarry.

VO LUM E 1 · HI STORY AND FUN DAM ENTALS

1
ernism, which brought so much change to so many

that replaced that of the Middle Ages. They

areas of human culture, never touched on cuisine.

codified the cuisine that was being created for

Indeed, if you view cuisine as a major cultural

17th-century French aristocrats.

institution, it has had unusually few big movements and revolutions.
Among European countries, France has long

Following in the footsteps of La Varenne,
Antonin Careme documented French cuisine in
a series ofbooks culminating in r:Art de la Cuisine

been considered to have the greatest national

Fran~aise,

interest in cuisine, as the dedication to La Va-

1833. Careme was also one of the first celebrity

renne's book suggests. So France is a logical place

chefs, popularly known as "the king of cooks and

to look for culinary evolution and revolution.
The haute cuisine of France has been subject to
many revisions and innovations over the years, as
evidenced by the evolution of the nation's cook-

published in five volumes beginning in

the cook of kings." Over the course ofhis career, he
cooked for the prince regent of England, the tsar of
Russia, and the Rothschild banking family.
Half a century later, as the Impressionists were

books. These books both documented and stan-

shaking up the art world, Auguste Escoffier

dardized the culinary practices of their eras. La

became the natural successor to Careme. Escoffi-

Varenne, along with other cookbook authors such

er's Le Guide Culinaire was first published in 1903

as Nicholas de Bonnefons and Fran<;:ois Massialot,

and served as the definitive manual for classic

recorded the development of a new French cuisine

French cuisine. It streamlined and codified the

August Escoffier codified French high-end
recipes and kitchen management in the
early 20th century, and his methods
dominated haute cuisine for decades.

could could cause pregnant women to miscarry or they could
be used as a military weapon.
Slowly, however, some parts of the press warmed to the

/

style. As one writer put it, the vitriolic criticism aimed at the
Impressionists was perhaps "the clumsy, somewhat primitive
expression of a profound bewilderment." At an exhibition in
1877, Impressionist painters met with some praise as well as
criticism, and they began to find collectors and dealers (most
of them friends of the artists) who wanted to buy their work.
These supporters proselytized for theirfriends, sometimes
drawing mockery themselves from the hostile critics.
Things changed dramatically for the Impressionists around
1880. The support of art dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel
(a dynamic, inventive dealer who championed Monet,
Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley) and Georges Charpentier
(a book publisher who wrote columns defending Impressionist painters and hosted one-man exhibitions for Renoir,
Manet, Monet, and Sisley) helped launch Impressionism into
the mainstream art world.
Much like Impressionism, the Modernist culinary movement
was often misunderstood by the public in its early days. Avantgarde chefs, like their counterparts in painting, were lambastBIEN

ed by some of their contemporaries. And as happened with
the masters of Impressionism, the creative geniuses of Modernist cooking eventually surmounted the initial confusion to
achieve prominence and acclaim (see page 62).

FEROCE I

Les Turcs ac helaol plusieura tuila i. l'.Espositioo d~
pour s'en ~n i t en cu de guerre.

impreMionnilte~

A period illustrator depicted Impressionist paintings
as so vile they could repulse the enemy in battle.

HIS TORY

19

cooking of Can!me and others, and it introduced

Innovation surely occurred, and the cuisine

numerous innovations in everything from kitchen

changed- sometimes dramatically. But there was

organization and management to food service and

no revolution to speak of. It would take another

presentation. One ofEscoffier's most enduring

generation or so for that to take place.

contributions to cuisine was organizing brigades
of chefs to cook for large banquets. His system for

Fast and Cheap: The Revolution
at the low End

managing both kitchen and service staff has been
the foundation of kitchen organization for the
past century.

The story of gastronomy is usually told from the

Escoffier was known in the press of his day by

perspective of the high end: the great chefs and

a title very similar to the one applied to Can!me:

their wealthy or privileged patrons. Even the story

"the king of chefs and the chef of kings." Like

of peasant cuisine is typically the story of well-fed

Can!me, Escoffier spent much of his career outside

peasants who grew their own food. But the masses

France, working with Cesar Ritz to create the

have to eat, too, and just like everyone else, they

Savoy Hotel in London and later The Ritz hotels

would prefer to eat tasty food.

(including The London Carlton).

The latter part of the 20th century saw a revolution in eating unlike anything that had occurred

Although Escoffier cooked for kings and
dignitaries, most of his career was spent prepar-

before, because it was a revolution of the masses,

ing food for the public in these fancy hotels. He

at least in the highly developed nations of North

also planned the menu and staffed the kitchens

America and Europe. Several trends combined to

for the cruise ships of the Hamburg-Amerika

utterly change what the typical person ate, yet this

Line. His clientele was wealthy. But compared to

story is not often told by chefs or food critics.
The fundamental impetus for the change was

Careme's era, sophisticated cooking was now a far

economic: the newly minted middle class needed

more democratic and public event, available to
anyone who could afford it. It was no longer

to eat. They had disposable income but little time.

confined to royalty or private households of the

They also lacked much of the context present in

ruling elite.

traditional societies. City dwellers didn't have

Many food writers hail each of these major
Greek-born entrepreneur Daniel Carasso
(shown) popularized yogurt with his
Groupe Danone (later Dannon), one of the
first companies to industrially process
yogurt. By 1947, fruit was added to satisfy
the American taste for sweet flavors.

gardens or farms near by, and fewer had extended

shifts in cuisine as something of a revolution. Yet if

family in the community. The adult women were

you trace the development from La Varenne to

more likely to have a job or career than to be

Careme and Escoffier, there are far more similari-

dedicated to homemaking and food preparation.

ties than differences between their philosophies.

Millions of people did not have the time, the skills,
or the help to cook for themselves-but they did
have enough money to eat well.
As busy people demanded food that required
little or no preparation, a new type of food company
rose to meet the need. Soft-drink manufacturers
had already helped pave the way: In 1900, Coca-

DANONE

Cola introduced premixed, ready-to-drink sodas,
and other beverage companies soon followed suit.
These drinks were very different from the beverages
that people made at home (such as coffee, tea, or
punch) and were far more convenient. These new
beverages caught on quickly, creating a market in
soft drinks that did not previously exist.
Next came yogurt. The fermented milk product
had been popular in places such as Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey ("yogurt" was originally a Turkish word) for at least 4,500 years. Daniel Carasso
was born in 1905 to a SephardicJewish family in

20

VOLUME 1 ·H I STORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

1
Salonica, Greece, where his family settled after
being cast out of Spain in the 15th century. In
1916, the family returned to Spain and started the
Groupe Danone yogurt factory in Barcelona.
Fleeing Nazi fascism, they moved to New York and
changed the name of their company to the more
American-sounding Dannon.
At the time, Americans were unfamiliar with
yogurt, and initially the company operated at
a loss. Then, in 1947, Dannon's owners made a concession to the American taste for sweet flavors by
adding strawberry jam to their recipe. "Fruit on
the bottom" yogurt was born, and sales grew
tremendously as Americans started to embrace
the seemingly strange and exotic new product.
In the early 1920s,Jay Catherwood Hormel was
creating a new market of his own. Hormel, an
alumnus of Princeton University and a veteran of
World War I, returned from the war to work in his
father's meatpacking business. He developed
a number of innovative new packaged meat
products, starting with America's first canned
ham. Then, to use the scraps left over after the
hams were trimmed, he introduced Spam, a
processed meat product that has been famousand infamous-ever since.
Ettore Boiardi came to the United States at age
16, landing at Ellis Island. He worked his way up in
the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel in New York City,
starting as a dishwasher and eventually rising to the
position of head chef. He then moved to Cleveland,
Ohio, and opened his own restaurant, II Giardino
d'Italia. It was successful-so much so that he was
barraged with requests for his pasta sauces.
In 1928, he opened a factory to produce

than going to separate stores for dry goods,

canned sauces, marketing them under the name

produce, and meat. The grocery company, which

"ChefBoy-ar-dee" so that Americans could

went by the less formal name A&P, continued to

pronounce his name correctly. To maintain

innovate, receiving patents on shopping carts and

quality control, he grew mushrooms for the

what we know today as the checkout counter. By

sauces in the factory basement. His canned goods

the 1930s, A&P had nearly 16,000 stores in the

became a sensation, and by the time ofBoiardi's

United States and combined sales of$1 billion

death in 1985, his company had annual sales of

annually. The era of the supermarket had begun.

more than $500 million.
The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company
began as a tea shop in New York City, with
a thriving mail-order business. In 1912, its owners

Normal Rockwell painted this portrait of
the colonel himself, Harland Sanders.

Next, some remarkable innovations took place
in the restaurant sector, led by entrepreneurs such
as Ray Kroc, Harland Sanders, and Dave Thomas.
In 1954, Kroc-a paper-cup salesman-met the

branched out and opened a self-service grocery

McDonald brothers, who ran an unusually efficient

store with a standardized layout. It sold every-

hamburger stand (and bought a lot ofKroc's paper

thing a household might want. This model quickly

cups). He decided to go into business with them

became popular, because it was faster and cheaper

and do something nobody had done before:

HISTORY

21

expand the business from its small community
(San Bernardino, California) to the world at large.
Similarly, Harland Sanders made fried chicken at
the gas station that he ran in Corbin, Kentuckyand the chicken soon became more popular than
the gasoline. He invented a special pressure fryer
to speed up the cooking (see page 2·120), and at
age 65 he took $105 from his Social Security check
to fund the development of his franchise business.
Dave Thomas, who would later start the
Wendy's hamburger chain, took over four failing
Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Columbus,
Ohio, and turned them around by radically
simplifying the menu, an idea that soon swept the
budding industry. The era of fast food had begun.

Another important breakthrough that occurred
around the same time was the invention of the
microwave. In 1945, Percy Spencer, an engineer
working for Raytheon building radar sets, noticed
that a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted when
microwaves from the radar unit had heated it up
(see page 2·182). Raytheon immediately patented
the idea of a microwave cooking device and
created the first home microwave oven.
At first, the appliances were clumsy and extremely expensive, but prices dropped and popularity grew. In 1970, the company sold 40,000
microwave ovens, but by 1975 sales had increased
to 1 million ovens per year. The rise of the microwave worked in concert with the new prepared
foods : the microwave was the ideal way to heat

Cuisine Goes Corporate

them up. As more people bought microwave
ovens, supermarkets stocked more prepared foods

The concept of quick, ready-to-eat food had been
around for centuries. Many cultures had developed

designed for them. Using a microwave was a way
to get a hot meal without really cooking.

street food that was sold from stands; it has long
been a staple at open-air markets and in cities.
What was different about the 1950s fast-food trend

formations that took place in the world of food
during the 20th century, providing convenience,

is that the individual restaurants were controlled
by what soon became large corporations. This

speed, and low price to millions of people. These
changes were profound and far-reaching. For the

corporate control afforded a certain assurance of
consistency and provided the resources for adver-

first time in history, a large fraction of the things
people ate came from factories. This was true for

tising, so the new franchises could establish their
brands with consumers. This coincided with the

ready-to-consume foods and drinks, such as
Coca-Cola, Dannon yogurt, and Spam. In

ability to advertise and market brands through
newspaper, radio, and later television.

a slightly different sense, it was also true for fast
foods, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and

These are just a few of the hundreds of trans-

This early McDonald's restaurant sign
boasts over 1million people served. Today
the chain serves about 52 million people
every day. By March 2010, McDonald's
had. since its founding, served an
estimated 245 billion meals.

22

VOLUM E 1 ·HIS TORY AND FUNDAM ENTALS

1
McDonald's hamburgers. Fast foods may have

is "Compared to what?" It would be wonderful if

been heated or fried at the local franchise outlet,

everyone could afford to sit down to traditionally

but the restaurants were owned and operated by

cooked meals, but that simply isn't practical for

large corporations, and ingredients were provided

many people. And what may be hard for a food

by an industrial supply chain.

critic, food ie, or chef to understand is that some

Saying that the food came from a factory

people don't even want a home-cooked meal.

sounds bad to most food lovers. The rise of fast

Those of us who love food can scarcely understand

food and convenience food (aka junk food) is

that, but empirically it is the case. The fast food

often blamed for the epidemic of obesity and other

and convenience food industries exist because

diet-related health problems, as we discuss in

people have voted with their pocketbooks and

chapter 4 on Food and Health, page 211. This

their stomachs. It is both unrealistic and elitist not

industrialization is also blamed for a general

to recognize this. Although it would be great to

decline in the quality of the dining experience.

offer the world better food choices, society has

There is plenty of truth in these claims; the rise
of prepared food and fast food did lead to many

collectively chosen the course we are on today.
When the fast-food revolution spilled over to

negative changes. But we must also recognize the

France, the home of grand culinary traditions, one

forces at work. People want food quickly and

could easily predict there would be trouble, and at

cheaply. They prefer national brands they feel they

first there was. McDonald's was viewed as an

can trust. Manufacturing on a large scale allows

agent of American culinary imperialism. Things

prices to be low, which further stimulates sales.

came to a head in 1999, when a French farmer

This combination of factors virtually guarantees

destroyed a McDonald's restaurant by driving his

that large companies will grow to fill the need.

tractor through it, as a protest against globaliza-

When one decries the evils of fast food and
manufactured food, an important question to ask

tion and the threat to traditional lifestyles that he
called "Coca-Colonization."

-""

Slow Food®

HIS TORY

23

food revolution encompassed a wider cast of
characters: gas station attendants and paper-cup
salesmen who turned into fast-food magnates;
chefs who became canned-sauce icons; and
tea-shop owners who turned into supermarket
titans. This revolution utterly changed what people
in developed and industrialized nations ate.
Perhaps one of the reasons that high-end
cuisine stayed relatively constant from Escoffier
through the 1960s is that people were already
absorbing tremendous change in what they ate.
The rise of fast food, supermarkets, and industrial
food caused a revolution in people's everyday
diets. High-end restaurant food was, comparatively, an island of stability in what was otherwise
a storm-tossed sea of culinary change.
Scientists in a 1960s food lab study raw
vegetable specimens.

For more on james Kraft's invention of processed cheese, see page
4·222. For more on Clarence
Bi rdseye's innovations in freezer
tec hnology, see page 306.

But the harsh words and tactics didn't last.
Today, France is the second most profitable

The Nouvelle Revolution

country for McDonald's (the United States is still

It is hard for us today to appreciate just how rigid

first), with 1,140 restaurants. Incredibly, McDon-

the system of Careme and Escoffier had become

ald 's is also the largest private-sector employer in

by the 1950s in France. It was a highly regimented

France. Even in the land of haute cuisine, fast food

repertoire. Chefs could, and did, invent new

seems to have a place.

dishes, but there was much reverence for the past

One side effect of the industrialization of food is

and its rules. Indeed, the veneration of the past

that the discipline of food science was born. New

was so strong that it constrained the creativity of

inventions in food technology have often led to

chefs in the present. Who were they to challenge

the creation of enormous corporations.James L.

the cuisine ofEscoffier and Careme?
By the 1960s, a few young French chefs started

Kraft developed a method for making pasteurized
processed cheese, which led in part to the launch

to take issue with the system. Many of them had

of Kraft Foods. Clarence Birdseye invented a way

trained with Fernand Point, a brilliant chef whose

to quickly freeze food, inspired by techniques he

career began in the age ofEscoffier but then took

gleaned on ice-fishing trips in Labrador, Canada.

a different turn. Point developed his own experi-

As food companies grew, so did the amount of

mental cuisine, anticipating the changes that his

research they put into perfecting and improving

proteges would perfect. Ultimately, his role as

their products.

a mentor for the next generation of chefs was more

Universities, particularly land-grant colleges

important than his own direct contributions.
His former students began to experiment and

that focused on agriculture, created food-science
departments to study every aspect of the food
Le Guide Michelin-first published in
France by the Michelin tire company in
the 1930s as a way to promote car
travel-assigned its star ratings with travel
in mind: a three-star designation means
"worth a journey,'' and two stars means
"worth a detour." The star ratings in the
guide have been the standard of career
achievement for chefs in France from the
onset. Recently, the guide has expanded to
include New York City, Tokyo, Las Vegas,
and other major cities.

24

abandon tradition, creating lighter menus, intro-

chain, from harvest to processing. Without the

ducing lower-fat sauces and vegetable purees,

food industry, there would have been far less

borrowing ingredients from non-French cuisines,

reason to apply science and technology to food.

and plating dishes in the kitchen instead of at the

The first part of the 20th century had a Modern-

table (see Plated Dishes, next page). All of this

ist revolution in every major cultural institution-

experimentation stirred up controversy. By 1972,

except food. But that time period did have a food

it had a name: Nouvelle cuisine.
Early influential figures in Nouvelle cuisine

revolution of a different kind. It occurred at the low
end of the market. This revolution wasn't sparked

included Paul Bocuse, Michel Guerard, and the

by a group of artists and intellectuals with Mod-

food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau of

ernist ideals, as it was with the Impressionist

Le Nouveau Guide. Gault and Millau, with their

painters or the Bauhaus architects. Instead, the

friend Andre Gayot, founded the Guide in 1969 to

VOLUME 1 · HlSTORY AND FUNDAMENTA LS

1
THE INVENTION OF

Plated Dishes
Go to any fine restaurant in the
world, and at least part of your
meal will most likely arrive as an
attractive arrangement of several
kinds offood on a single platewhat chefs call a "plated dish ."
This approach is such a common
method of presentation, and food
pairings are now such a focus of
haute cuisine, that one might
assume that restaurants have
always served food this way. In fact,
the plated dish is a relatively recent
innovation.
In the classic cuisine formalized
by Escoffier (see Early French
Gastronomy, page 9), food was
broughtto the table on serving
platters and dished onto plates
there, either by the diner (in causal
settings) or by the waiter or maitre

chef and out of his or her control.
Jean-Baptiste Troisgros, who
frequently chatted with customers in
the dining room, picked up on their
desire to see some sort of "signature
from the chef" on their plates. He
encouraged his sons to start plating
food in the kitchen . Pierre and Jean
soon realized that standard plates
were too small for the artful presentations they had in mind, so they commissioned new plates, about 32
em / 121/2 in across, to serve as a larger
palette for their work. They first
began using these plates in 1966 for
two dishes in particular: salmon in
sorrel sauce (a signature dish of the
restaurant to this day) and beef
entrecote.
The innovation was very well
' s.I-sa>~w,.~u•s""''"'"""
received, according to Pierre's son,
the celebrated chef Michel Troisgros.
d 'hotel (in high-end restaurants). This The first plated dish was salmon in sorrel sauce.
approach was common in numerous
"Customers liked having more space
cuisines around the world. Chinese
on their plate, more room to breathe,"
food, for instance, was traditionally served in a similar manhe says. Plating dishes in the kitchen has numerous advanner, with food placed on the table for people to serve themtages. It gives the chef more control and allows him to
selves. This "family-style" approach was also used to serve
prepare more complicated dishes. From a restaurateur's
Italian, German, and American food .
perspective, it is faster and cheaper because it allows the
The French chefs Pierre and Jean Troisgros, at the urging of
restaurant to operate with a smaller waitstaff, who require
their father, Jean-Baptiste, pioneered the practice of plating in
less training. The combination of aesthetic and economic
the late 1960s, becoming the first chefs in a top-quality
advantages rapidly made plating popular. Within a decade,
restaurant to embrace the new trend . At the time, the Troisthe practice had spread throughout Europe and made its
gros brothers were running the kitchen at the Hotel Moderne
way to the United States.
in the city of Roanne. Cooking in a style that would later be
In many restaurants, however, dessert is still served in the
termed Nouvelle cuisine, they emphasized high-quality
old style. Carts displaying whole cakes and other sweets are
ingredients, lightness and simplicity, and creativity and selfrolled to the table before being cut. Even eiBulli had a desert
expression .
trolley until1992 (see page 33). The cheese course is another
They felt constrained in their artistic expression, however,
bastion of tradition; it, too, is often served from a cart
because, at that time, tradition required the chef to place
brought to the table.
each finished dish on a large platter. This was service aIa
Plated dishes can now be found in restaurants in every part
Russe, which meant the table was set with empty plates
of the globe. They are so common that it seems as though
(often with a centerpiece of fruit, flowers, or other decorafood has always been presented fully plated. But that is not
tive elements), and guests were served tableside. Virtually
the case. The plated dish was a radical innovation, albeit one
all aspects of the presentation happened away from the
that caught on.

HISTORY

25

protest the Michelin guide, which they criticized
as "a stubborn bastion of conservatism" that

foie gras, what's left of French cooking?"
Despite this criticism, the movement took hold

ignored "the new generation of French chefs who

of the culinary landscape in France and around
the world in the 1970s, and it continued to shape

had guts." The inaugural issue of Le Nouveau
Guide featured a cover story on Bocuse, Guerard,

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Julia Child's book brought French cuisine
to the United States. It both led to a shift
in American home cooking and paved the
way for French restaurants in the U.S. Her
love of French food was traditional: she
disliked Nouvelle cuisine and spoke out
against it.

Louis Outhier, Alain Senderens, and 44 other
chefs under the headline "Michelin: Don't Forget

600 elite French chefs (those with one or more
Michelin stars) from 1970 through 1997. North-

next page), giving the movement a name and
essentially launching a publicity campaign that

western University sociologist Hayagreeva Rao
and colleagues analyzed each chef's top three

helped Nouvelle cuisine reach a wider audience.
Many of the chefs championed by Gault and

signature dishes and found that in 1970, 36% of
the chefs had just one Nouvelle-cuisine signature

Millau quickly garnered respect and Michelin

dish-which, in many cases, was a copy ofTroisgros's famous salmon in sorrel sauce (see The First

stars, but the new style drew fire from established
French food critics, particularly La Reyniere (aka

Plated Dish, previous page)-and 48% had none.

Robert Courtine), the prominent critic at Le
Monde. Nouvelle cuisine was seen as a threat to

By 1997, only 6% had none, and 70% were predominantly Nouvelle cuisine (with two or more

French tradition and was often attacked on
nationalist grounds. Senderens says that in 1978,

signature dishes in the Nouvelle style). The study,
published in 2003, concluded that this was a true

when he introduced soy sauce into his cooking
after a trip to China, "a food critic ripped me to

social movement, not a mere culinary trend.
Nouvelle cuisine was a successful revolution; it

shreds." In 1979, the sociologist Claude Fischler
wrote an article for Le Monde titled "The Socrates

succeeded so well that today we view French
cuisine through its lens. High-end chefs still make

of the Nouvelle Cuisine/' in which he subtly
mocked the movement's emphasis on letting

great dishes of the pre-Nouvelle years, but usually
as a self-conscious throwback to a lost age.

overpowering authority, but rather by the opinionated modesty of an exponent of the maieutic
art: In place of the cook as mercenary of the
kitchen stove, we now have the Socratic cook,
midwife at the birth of culinary truth."
In the United States, one of Nouvelle cuisine's
chief critics was celebrity chefJulia Child, author
of the best-selling Mastering the Art of French

Cooking. Child saw the new movement as an

The first wave ofN ouvelle cuisine represented
a real revolution, analogous in some ways to
Impressionism in its rebellion against the establishment and the attendant controversy. Many longcherished aspects ofEscoffier's grande cuisine, such
as sauces made with meat extracts and thickened
with flour-based roux, were discarded.
The system of the restaurant changed as well.
Escoffier had championed service aIa Franfaise, in
which empty plates were set before each diner and
waiters served and carved food at the table.

affront to the logic and grandeur of French cuisine.

Nouvelle cuisine featured plated dishes, assem-

She particularly disliked the Nouvelle cuisine

bled in the kitchen by chefs. All the waiter did was

penchant for serving barely cooked meat and

set the plate in front of the diner.

vegetables, which she believed did not properly
develop the "essential taste" of the ingredients.

26

in a longitudinal study that followed roughly

These 48 Stars!" In 1973, Gault published "The
Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine" (see

ingredients express their true flavors: "The artist
in this field is no longer characterized by his

In the United States, the leading restaurant guide is the Zagat Survey. Unlike the
Michelin guide or Gault Millau, Zagat's
results are based on voting by the public.
Many consumers view the guide as being
far more accurate and reliable than the
others.

French cuisine for many years thereafter. The
extent of Nouvelle cuisine's impact is evident

Yet in another sense, Nouvelle cuisine was

She also accused Gault and Millau of."pushing the

a rather limited revolution, because it was all about
techniques and ingredients. The famous ten

Nouvelle cuisine relentlessly/ ' to the point of
"browbeating" restaurants that didn't embrace

principles of Nouvelle cuisine championed by
Gault and Millau all have to do with rather techni-

a Nouvelle cuisine ethos.

cal aspects of cooking.

Other American gastronomes shared Child 's
wariness of the new movement. As renowned San
Francisco cooking teacher Jack Lirio quipped to
Newsweek in 1975, "Without butter, cream, and

They were a big deal to chefs and food critics,
who were steeped in the traditions of Ia grande
cuisine, but they seem quite ordinary to us today.
High-end food was, ultimately, still high-end food,

VOLUM E 1 ·HIS TORY AND FUNDAMENTA LS

just with a slightly different set of techniques.
As Nouvelle cuisine won the battle for the
hearts and minds of both chefs and diners, the
revolution matured into a new culinary establishment. Successive generations of chefs carried
forward the torch of culinary innovation, but in an
evolutionary rather than a revolutionary fashion.
In part, that is because Nouvelle cuisine carved
out some notion of independence for the chef.
Escoffier (and Careme before him) had explicitly
sought to establish rules and conventions. Nouvelle cuisine gave more leeway to the individual
chef, so there seemed to be little incentive to rebel.
As young chefs rose to prominence, they
extended the range of Nouvelle cuisine, although
at that point it was no longer new. Joel Robuchon,
named "chef of the century" by Gault Millau in
1989, was known for relentless perfectionism. His
cuisine was Nouvelle in the sense that it followed
the ten commandments, but at the same time it
was clearly his own. Much the same could be said
of Fredy Girardet, the self-taught Swiss master
chef who was often listed as the best chef in the
world. Again, he was clearly staying inside the
boundaries of Nouvelle cuisine but developing
a unique repertoire.
Within the movement, some chefs were known
for tending toward more unusual and daring foods
and combinations. Michel Bras, Pierre Gagnaire,
and Marc Veyrat took their own paths, each
fiercely original and extremely inventive. Yet none
of these chefs has been described as being outside
the mainstream, and all were lauded by both the
Michelin and Gault Millau guides.
Outside of France, Nouvelle cuisine sometimes
had an enormous impact and other times had
barely any, depending on the country and its local
gastronomic culture. In the United States, Nouvelle cuisine was deeply influential, helping to
inspire "New American" cuisine (see next page).
American chefs borrowed techniques from
Nouvelle cuisine, but more important than any
single technique or principle was the idea of
revolution itself. American chefs weren't steeped
in Ia grande cuisine; instead, they rebelled against
the doldrums of mass-produced, uninspired
American food. These chefs created a distinctive
New American cuisine based on regional ingredients and food traditions, but with a clear nod to
Nouvelle techniques.

HISTORY

27

The same effect occurred in the United King-

inspire Spanish Modernist chefs. But throughout

dom, where a generation of"New British" chefs

the 1960s and 1970s, Spanish food was largely

emerged, adamant that British food was not

unaffected by the developments in France.

synonymous with bad food. Chefs such as Nico

Italy had even less of a reaction to the Nouvelle

Ladenis, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay,

revolution. In part, that is because Italian cuisine

and Fergus Henderson took principles of Nouvelle

has always been highly regional and did not have

cuisine and applied them in their own characteris-

centralized standards. There was no set of oppres-

tic ways.

sive grande cuisine rules to rebel against.

A number of French expatriates, such as Albert

A few Italian chefs-including Gualtiero

and Michel Roux, Raymond Blanc, and Pierre

Marchesi, Nadia Santini of the great restaurant

Koffmann, joined their ranks, bringing French

Dal Pescatore, and Luisa Marelli Valazza of AI

Nouvelle cuisine directly to British diners. As in

Sorriso-used some principles of Nouvelle

the United States, this helped lead a movement

cuisine to inform their interpretations ofltalian

toward higher-quality food and dining.
In Spain, the effect of Nouvelle cuisine was

culinary themes. A more recent example is Heinz
Beck, who was born in Germany but for years has

much more limited. It was clearly an inspiration

been considered one of the top chefs in Rome.

for the Spanish Basque chefJuan Mari Arzak, who

The refined and sophisticated Italian cuisine

created his own distinctive style that would later

produced by these chefs definitely owes some-

THE HISTORY OF

New American Cuisine
In the 1970s, fine dining in the United States
usually meant one oftwo things: either
a steak house with a menu straight from the
1950s, or a "Continental cuisine" restaurant
that served ersatz, heavy, and uninspired
food . Food writer Calvin Trill in lampooned
this type of restaurant, saying that they might
as well all have the same name: "La Maison
de Ia Casa House."
News of Nouvelle cuisine in France encouraged a generation of American chefs to
rebel and create something oftheir own . The
two culinary movements shared many tenets: eschewing
heavy stocks and sauces, showcasing fresh and local ingredients, and cooking those ingredients minimally (or not at all).
The New American movement looked to the culinary
traditions of many different regions for its inspiration,
including California, the South and Southwest, and Cajun
country. As diverse as these culinary styles were, they were
unified by a spirit of creativity among their proponents,
including Alice Waters and jeremiah Tower at Chez Panisse
in Berkeley, California; Larry Forgione at The River Cafe and
An American Place in New York City; Charlie Trotter at
Charlie Trotter's in Chicago; Paul Prudhomme at K-Paul's
Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans; and Wolfgang Puck
(pictured) at Ma Maison and Spago in Los Angeles. Through
their experimentation, these chefs laid the groundwork for

28

an American cuisine that had the techniques
and refinements found in Nouvelle French
food but that was based on American tastes
and traditions.
Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 and
hired Tower as head chef two years later.
Working together in the kitchen, the two
borrowed heavily from Nouvelle cuisine, but
they also forged their own distinctly Californian style-which included high-end pizzas,
whole baked garlic with white cheese and
peasant bread, and cream offresh corn soup
with crayfish butter. Tower, a self-taught chef, had a brash
confidence and a penchant for taking chances.
More important, Waters, Tower, and subsequent chefs at
Chez Panisse helped launch a revolution in how food was
purchased, working directly with farmers and purveyors to
acquire the best possible ingredients. They became some of
the first and most vocal proponents of small farms and
. sustainable agriculture, a trend that has gathered momentum overtime. They also championed artisanal baked bread
and had enormous influence on American bakers.
As Waters wrote in her Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, "We
as a nation are so removed from any real involvement with
the food we buy, cook, and consume. We have become
alienated by the frozen foods and hygienically sealed
bread. I want to stand in the supermarket aisles and implore

VOLUME 1 · HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

1
thing to the Nouvelle movement, but it never
constituted a revolution.
Today, many of the original leaders of the
Nouvelle cuisine movement are retired from

In the later stages of Nouvelle cuisine and in
New International cooking, innovation has
mainly been limited to flavor combinations. The
first step was mining traditional regional cuisines

day-to-day activities in the kitchen but remain

for their approaches and flavors . Next, chefs

involved with the restaurants that bear their

sought to bridge the gap between Western and

names. Subsequent generations of French chefs

Asian cuisines.

have extended the scope of French cuisine, but
all through gradual evolution.
What started as Nouvelle cuisine is now one

Then new and exotic ingredients found their
way onto menus. Wagyu beef and fish such as
hamachi and taro (tuna belly) have always been

branch of what could be called "New International"

found in Japanese restaurants. Today, you might

cuisine. Around the world, one can find national

find them on the menu at nearly any New Interna-

cuisines that were clearly inspired by the Nouvelle

tional restaurant anywhere in the world. Mean-

movement, borrowing both cooking techniques

while, ostensibly Japanese restaurants, such as

and the general attitude of rebellion. This includes

Nobu, incorporate their own take on foie gras,

various "New" takes on Asian cooking, or so-called

jalapeno peppers, and other completely non-

Fusion, which melds Asian spices and techniques

Japanese ingredients.

within a Western, Nouvelle-inspired backdrop.

Although France started the ball rolling, it is

the shoppers, their carts piled high with mass-produced
artificiality, 'Please ... look at what you are buying! "'
Forgione was also an early supporter of small-scale farming.
In 1978, after two years in London, he returned to the U.S. and
soon became frustrated at how difficult it was to find quality
ingredients. While heading the kitchen atThe River Cafe, he
worked diligently to purchase free-range chickens, ducks, and
wild game (including muskrat, beaver, and elk). The River Cafe
became the first New York restaurant to serve fresh buffalo in
70 years. Forgione also procured periwinkles, sea urchins, and
other seafood from Hawaii, as well as specialty produce such
as cattail shoots and fiddle head ferns . In 1983, he opened his
own restaurant, An American Place, and continued to shine
a spotlight on small farmers and seasonal ingredients.
In Chicago, Charlie Trotter espoused a similar philosophy at
his eponymous restaurant, which he opened in 1987. The
famously perfectionistic chef combined French technique,
Japanese-style presentation, and a strong emphasis on American ingredients, including Maine lobster, Alaskan halibut,
Hudson Valley foie gras, and fresh organic vegetables. He
pioneered both the craze for microgreens and the practice of
serving diners at a table in the kitchen . He was also one of the
first high-end chefs to offer a vegetable tasting menu .
Meanwhile, Prudhomme was making his name with a very
different, but nevertheless ingredient-driven, menu . K-Paul's,
which opened in 1979, served dishes inspired by the Cajun and
Creole communities of rural Louisiana, including jalapeno and

cheddar biscuits, free-range roast duck with rice and orange
sauce, sweet potato- pecan pie, and Prudhomme's signature
blackened red fish (the progenitor of all other "blackened"
dishes). He treated Cajun and other Louisiana-based cuisine as
a framework for innovation, and he soon attracted attention
from the press and the public. Prudhomme became a household name after he launched his line of spice blends, which are
now distributed worldwide.
Puck's name is equally recognizable today. His career took
off in 1975, when he began his seven-year tenure as chef at Ma
Maison, becoming a favorite of Hollywood stars. When Puck
opened Spago, in 1982, it quickly became one ofthe most
popular restaurants on the West Coast. His culinary style,
which he called "L.A. Provincial," was similar to Waters's and
Tower's in emphasizing regional ingredients and a casual
atmosphere. He specialized in haute pizzas (with then-unusual
toppings such as fresh duck, Santa Barbara shrimp, and smoked
salmon with caviar) and California-style dishes such as Sonoma
baby lamb with braised greens and rosemary. Puck spun his
early success into an international empire that now includes
high-end restaurants, a chain of bistros, a catering business,
and consumer products (such as his ubiquitous frozen pizzas).
These New American pioneers became some ofthe first
celebrity chefs. Their popularity coincided with the growing
American interest in good food and made top-quality ingredients de rigueur in fine restaurants . The stage was set for the
emergence of a new Modernist cuisine.

HIS TORY

29

Other chefs who have set up shop in Vegas

hard to argue that the French are leading the New
International movement. There is no single
driving force or capital city of New International.
But if one insisted on finding a representative
city, it might be, of all places, Las Vegas, Nevada.
At some point in the 1990s, Las Vegas casino
owners discovered that food was a great potential
draw for clientele. Casinos dove into the food
world with the same gusto and excess that they
have shown in their billion-dollar hotels and glitzy
theater shows. Casino owners courted restaurants
and chefs that were considered to be among the
greatest in the world.
Today, Las Vegas has an incredible number of
top chefs running restaurants across the culinary
spectrum, from fast food to high end. The majority

Las Vegas is the capital of bad taste in
some ways, with ersatz copies of everything from the Eiffel Tower to an Egyptian
pyramid. Underneath the fake glitz, Las
Vegas has many serious restaurants.

30

include globetrotting transplants such as Nobu
Matsuhisa from Japan, Peru, and Los Angeles;
Jean-Georges Vongerichten from France by way of
New York; Julian Serrano of the restaurant
Picasso, from Spain and San Francisco; and
Wolfgang Puck from Austria, France, and
Hollywood.
Another case could be made that New York is
the center of New International cuisine. Chefs
such as Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, David
Bouley, Alain Ducasse, and Charlie Palmer,
along with Vongerichten, Matsuhisa, and Keller,
all have restaurants there. And as the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is as close
to being the capital of the world as we are ever

of the establishments at the high end are showcasing their own take on New International. This

likely to see.
The best chef cooking in the New Interna-

includes restaurants by Thomas Keller, Charlie
Palmer, and Bobby Flay from the United States;

in France, he in many ways has inherited the

and Pierre Gagnaire, Guy Savoy, and Joel Robu-

mantle of perfection and elegance in execution

chon from France.

that once belonged to Robuchon or Girardet.

tional style, many would argue, is Keller. Trained

VOLUME 1 · HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTALS

1
l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a chain of
eight identical restaurants in cites around
the world.

Others would argue that the best chef is Ducasse,
who reinterpreted the food of Mediterranean
France through a New International lens. He is
arguably the most famous and influential chef in
France today and also has global reach, with
restaurants around the world.
The discussion of which city is the center, or
which chef is the best, is ultimately self-defeating,
because the New International style isn't a movement so much as it is an entrenched orthodoxy.
There is no single city or country at its hub,
because high-end cuisine has globalized. There is
no single leader because you need a leader only if
you are going somewhere.
At this stage, changes in theN ew International
style amount to a steady evolution of a mature
discipline. Each chef is innovating, but to a large

have followed in his footsteps. Indeed, by 2010
Ducasse had 19 stars, and Robuchon had 25,
summed across their restaurant empires.
Like them, Vongerichten and several other
chefs have empires of restaurants with different
names, niches, and price points. These restaurants
are mostly high-end, with a set ofless formal
dining options. The empires' principal common
theme is the chef/ owner.
Other major figures, such as Puck, have a few
high-end restaurants, but their empires are
weighted toward the low end, creating chains of
cafes, fast-food outlets, and even canned food,
following the lead ofEttore Boiardi. Perhaps the
most surprising player is Robuchon, who came out
of retirement to open a set of eight identically

degree they are all going in their own directions.
Taken as a whole, there is no net movement.

in cities around the world. The Nouvelle cuisine

One of the most surprising trends in the New

create the first haute cuisine restaurant chain of

International style is that well-respected chefs
have in some ways taken the path of Harland
Sanders and Ray Kroc, turning what had once
been single restaurants into empires. Ducasse
started the trend, with the then-audacious goal of

CLASSIC TOMATO wnH BASIL

named restaurants-L'Atelier de Joel Robuchonmaster and chef of the 20th century came back to
the 21st century.
The fundamental reason for this expansion is
the same one that drove the fast-food revolution:
customers like to have familiar names and brands

having two Michelin-three-star restaurants. In

to rely on. That is even true at the very high end.
Why risk a local chef's attempt to be the best in

1998, he succeeded in becoming the first "sixstar" chef since the 1930s, and many other chefs

run by Robuchon or Ducasse?

the world if you can instead walk into a restaurant

HISTORY

like Ettore Boiardi in the 1920s, Wolfgang
Puck has gone into the canned food
business.

31

THE SEEDS OF MODERNIS M
It isn't always easy to determine the origins of an

Ferran Adria and eiBulli

artistic movement. Which of its antecedents,

The restaurant now known as e!Bulli, near Roses on

anticipators, and early experiments were crucial,

Catalonia's Costa Brava, had a rather ignominious
start. It was built in 1961 as a miniature-golf

and which were not? One example: did the abstract
seascapes painted by Joseph Mallard William
Turner in the 1840s anticipate the Impressionists

course-at best, a small diversion for those visiting
the northeastern coast of Spain. The proprietors,

of the 1870s, or did he inspire them? If it's the
latter, why did it take 30 years for the seeds he

ment in honor of their French bulldogs (bulli in

planted to germinate? Or, as one ophthalmologist
has suggested, did Turner's late work simply tell us
that his eyesight was clouded by cataracts?
Numerous other theories have been advanced
to explain the origins oflmpressionism. Were

Hans and Marketta Schilling, named the establishSpanish). Within a few years, the miniature-golf
course was retooled as a modest seaside bar and
grill serving French food, with a French expatriate
chef from Alsace. Despite its remote location, the
restaurant was ambitious. It was awarded its first

artists of the movement-who rebelled against the

Michelin star in 1976. Five years later,Juli Soler

then-current art orthodoxy-a product of the

took over as general manager (see next page), and

times, reflecting the major social changes that

the following year the restaurant gained a second

each of these artists felt and interpreted? Or was it

star under chefJean-Paul Vinay.

the other way around: their commentary became
part of the zeitgeist and changed the world more

came to work as an apprentice in the e!Bulli

than the world changed them?
This is the stuff of great debate for art historians, and in many cases there is no single answerat least none that is universally accepted. At a far
enough remove, all of these theories seem to have
some merit. Major artistic movements are sometimes anticipated and certainly draw inspiration
from others. Movements are also a product of their
times, and, in turn, they affect their worlds. Over
time, influence occurs in all directions.

Around the same time, the young Ferran Adria
kitchen. Adria had no formal culinary training.
Born in a suburb of Barcelona in 1962, he became
interested in cooking at the age of 17 while
working as a dishwasher at a small French restaurant in a nearby town. The chef there let him
prepare the salads and made him memorize
Escoffier. Soon Adria was working in kitchens
around Spain. When he showed up at e!Bulli, he
quickly impressed the staff and was hired in 1984
as chef de partie.

Similarly, in tracing the origins of Modernist

The entrance to eiBulli, Spanish chef
Ferran Adria's groundbreaking Modernist
restaurant on the Costa Brava of
Catalonia, is unpretentious. It was named
for the original owners' pet bulldogs, bulli
in Spanish.

cuisine, we can point to various precursor movements. Starting in the mid-1980s, a number of
culinary trends were set in motion that would
ultimately lead to what we call the Modernist
revolution in cuisine-a change in the techniques,
aesthetics, and intellectual underpinnings of
gastronomy. This revolution is a central theme of
this book.
We do not claim that our account here is the
only way to make sense of the history of the
Modernist revolution. We focus on four major
precursors to the revolution, but it goes without
saying that some readers will have different
accounts, versions, and analyses. Nevertheless,
exploring these four developments provides
a glimpse into the early days of the new cuisine
and the factors that shaped it.

HISTORY

33


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